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Nelson Scrambles to Defend Health Vote

Battered in Republican-leaning Nebraska for supporting health care reform legislation, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson is scheduled to hit the airwaves Wednesday night with a 30-second television ad to defend what has turned out to be a very unpopular vote, the Lincoln Journal Star is reporting.

The spot, scheduled to launch during the Holiday Bowl, is sure to receive wide viewing because the post-season college football game features the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nelson’s move comes on the heels of a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Monday that pegged the Senator’s disapproval rating at 55 percent and showed him trailing GOP Gov. Dave Heineman by 31 points in a hypothetical Senate matchup.

Nelson provided the crucial 60th vote for the Democrats on Dec. 19, just hours before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed a series of three cloture motions to end the debate on his $871 billion health care reform package. Final passage occurred the morning of Christmas Eve, and with Republicans unanimously opposed, Reid needed all 60 Members of the majority Conference to push the bill through.

Nelson lent his support to the legislation after negotiating to have Nebraska’s portion of the bill’s proposed Medicaid expansion paid for by the federal government in perpetuity. Seen as a special deal, the arrangement is unpopular in the Cornhusker State, at least for now. Nelson is also under fire for accepting compromise abortion language that does not explicitly prohibit abortion procedures from being subsidized with federal funds.

Nelson, who is not up for re-election until 2012, has argued vehemently since casting his votes for cloture and final passage last week that the deals he negotiated on Medicaid and abortion have been mischaracterized. The television ad, set to run beyond Wednesday night’s Holiday Bowl, is the Senator’s attempt to set the record straight.

“With all the distortions about health care reform, I want you to hear directly from me,” Nelson, a former governor, says in the ad, according to the Journal Star. In the spot, the Senator speaks directly to the camera.

According to the Rasmussen survey, Reid’s health care bill is opposed by 64 percent of Nebraskans. The statewide, auto-dial telephone poll of 500 likely voters was conducted on Monday, and has an error margin of 4.5 points.

Nelson likely faces another tough health care vote early next year, with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate now in the early stages of reconciling their two bills — the $1.2 trillion House package was approved before Thanksgiving. Only one Republican voted for the House legislation.

Assuming a reconciled bill can be negotiated, the new legislation would go back to each chamber for a final vote. In the Senate, the final bill is subject to a filibuster, and Nelson has said material changes that are not to his liking could push him to join an expected Republican blockade of the bill.

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