In the absence of exit polls from the dramatic special Senate race in Massachusetts, it's hard to analyze what exactly happened and why. That hasn't stopped everyone (OK, including me
) from doing just that.
But now we do have an intriguing and counter-intuitive nugget from a Rasmussen poll
of 1,000 people who voted in the special election. A solid majority -- 56 percent -- said health care was their top issue. And 53 percent of them voted for . . . Democrat Martha Coakley. So, more people motivated by the health issue wanted to save reform than kill it.
"I could make the case very strongly that health care is the issue that got Scott Brown his initial traction," pollster Scott Rasmussen told me. "There are people out there who really dislike it, and saw him as a vehicle to get that 41st vote (to block it). But among the people who said health care was their top issue, Coakley won. So clearly that wasn't enough to get him over the top."
Brown made up ground in other areas. He narrowly bested Coakley on the economy, which 25 percent of voters said was their top issue. He was preferred by wide margins on taxes and national security, named top issues by a combined 10 percent of voters.
The Rasmussen poll brings to mind polls from 1994 that showed 70 to 80 percent of voters that year had never heard
of the Contract With America, a pocket-card Republican agenda of 10 popular proposals, such as tax cuts and term limits. The enduring narrative, however, is that the contract was a major factor in the GOP takeover of the House -- a power shift as stunning as the one this week in Massachusetts. In fact, House Minority Leader John Boehner plans to revive the contract concept and just hired one of the 1994 contract architects
as his chief of staff. Not only that, if you clicked that link, you'll see the writer says the contract "catapulted" Republicans to power in 1994.
Before it's set in stone, maybe we should re-examine the idea that Brown's victory means Democrats should abandon health reform. Rasmussen called the Massachusetts race "nuanced" and said it can't be read as a simple referendum on health care. His poll does make clear the Democrats' dilemma: Health reform is extremely important to their base and appeared to drive up turnout for Coakley -- yet reform also drives turnout on the other side and is unpopular in national polls. People think it's going to raise costs and lower the quality of care, Rasmussen said, and don't like the raw deal-making they've seen in the legislative process.
"The sooner the Democrats can get the legislative process behind them, the better off they're going to be," he said. "One, because of the ugliness of it. And two, they've got to focus on other issues that are more pressing to voters."
The Democratic plan would provide near universal coverage, require people to buy insurance, impose tighter regulation on insurance companies and try myriad ways to curb soaring health care costs. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that nothing further will happen until Brown is seated
. What they do after that is an open question. Democrats are making suggestions that range from abandoning the effort to expanding Medicare to persuading the House pass the Senate bill. Democrats could then adopt some of the compromises negotiators have worked out by folding them into a budget reconciliation bill. Reconciliation bills only require 51 votes in the Senate.