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Caution on the generic ballot, Palin's presidential plans, Obamacare drags down the Dems, and more...

6:30 AM, Sep 2, 2010 • By JAY COST
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(6) Health care.  Nate Silver and Jonathan Chait disagree with my recent assessment that the health care law has been a factor in the political decline of the Democrats. Both of them make essentially the same point: you can't prove it! Well...yeah! Absent a poll asking people if their main reason for opposition to the Democrats is health care, the best we can do is make a circumstantial argument.* This kind of argumentation happens all the time, especially over at FiveThirtyEight: Every time Silver offers up a statistical correlation, he's making a circumstantial argument. Nothing wrong with that. And while correlation does not necessitate causation (and all that jazz), there is a very strong circumstantial argument to be made here. Consider the contrary assertion: The president and the Democrats' numbers dropped sharply between Memorial Day and Labor Day of last year, right when the health care debate heated up, then declined again between November and December as each chamber passed their versions of it; yet while the bills were manifestly unpopular, it was not a reason for the decline. Does that really make sense?

For his part, Silver says that my argument is "underdetermined" but also that it's "implausible that (health care) hasn't played some role." I suppose that both of these statements could be true at the same time, but that really requires some nuance, doesn't it?

I could bore you with more polling data to back up my argument, or we could just let Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) break the tie:  

One of the most innovative voices in the health care debate, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), is accelerating the process of exempting his state from some of the national reforms passed under President Barack Obama.

The Oregon Democrat is seeking to take advantage of a provision he helped write into the legislation that allows states to set up their own health care systems as long as they meet minimal requirements established by the Department of Health and Human Services. In a letter to the state's Health Authority office, Wyden announced that he will introduce legislation to accelerate the start date for state waivers from 2017 to 2014, if not earlier for Oregon specifically.

In addition, he strongly suggested that the state should use the provision to exempt Oregon from the individual mandate, which would penalize those individuals who refuse to purchase insurance coverage. The mandate was a feature of Wyden's own health care bill but has proved to be remarkably unpopular among voters.

Wyden is up for reelection this year.  So far, he looks fairly safe.  But it is peculiar, isn't it?  An incumbent Democrat up for reelection is petitioning to get his state waived from one of the major provisions in the bill.  

Somebody needs to tell Senator Wyden that the argument that health care has hurt his party's prospects is underdetermined!

In all seriousness, we can look to the actions of politicians to get a sense of the political effects of health care reform.  Are Republicans running against it? Yes. Are Democrats in vulnerable districts running in support of it? Not really. Are some Democrats even running away from it? Yes. Is there a strong correlation between House Democrats who voted no and McCain's share of the district vote? Oh, most definitely.

* In July, Democracy Corps did actually ask people why they disapproved of the president, allowing them to give their own answer.  Guess what item was in a statistical tie for number one?  (Hint: It rhymes with "realth rare.")  

(7) NRSC to outspend DSCC in Illinois.  This item from The Hill caught my eye:

Giannoulias is expected to need upwards of $4 million to maintain a statewide TV ad campaign in the final month of the race. But much of that money won't be coming from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.). 

After a speech in Chicago on Monday, Durbin told reporters Democrats would not match the $3.4 million that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has pledged to Kirk.

 "The amount of money being spent by the Republican side [this campaign cycle] is overwhelming," Durbin said, according to Crain's Chicago Business. 

A largely-unnoticed development in this campaign season is that the NRCC -- after several cycles of falling far behind the DSCC -- has caught back up in the race for dollars. The DSCC has lots of places to defend, and it looks like they have been forced to make some tough choices.  

(8) A Burr in the GOP's saddle?  PPP shows Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) pulling some weak numbers against Democrat Elaine Marshall, besting her by just 43-38. My former colleague at RealClearPolitics, Sean Trende, opines:

The whole trajectory of this race has been bizarre. North Carolina leans Republican by a few points at the presidential level and is a fairly conservative state at the local level. Burr hasn't committed any unpardonable sin that would normally sink an incumbent below 45 percent. One would expect him to be well above 50 percent in this environment, even given the slow movement of the state back toward the Democrats over the past decade.

But North Carolina voters are notoriously hard on their incumbents. No Senate candidate has won more than 55 percent of the vote in the last 35 years, and no senator has been re-elected since Jesse Helms in 1996.

Indeed. North Carolina has long been one of the most diverse states of the South, being one of the few places in the old Confederacy that still had sizeable Republican support (in the west). The Tar Heel state was also a rare Southern exception in that it invested in education and technology much sooner than the rest of the region. It retains a great deal of diversity to this day.  The inevitable problem for any senator is that he or she has to harmonize the interests of the voters.  The more diverse those voters are, the harder that is to do.  Burr has long had trouble with this task, and he's lucky that he's up for reelection in a cycle that is so favorable to his own party.

Jay Cost is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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