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Poll: Health Care Vote May be Bad News for Ben Nelson in 2012

(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson may get burned in his next election by the health care debate, regardless of how he ultimately votes for the Democrats' reform package, but he may be better off opposing it, a new poll shows.

Under intense pressure to fall in line with the rest of the Democratic caucus in the Senate, moderate Ben Nelson finally voted to end a Republican filibuster on the health care bill after cutting a deal to pay for an expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska with federal rather than state dollars. However, only 17 percent of Nebraska voters approve of the deal, according to a new Rasmussen poll.

Meanwhile, as many as 64 percent of Nebraska voters oppose the health care overhaul, including 53 percent who are strongly opposed -- and they may take it out on Nelson when he runs for re-election in 2012.

Sixty-one percent of surveyed voters said they would vote for Republican Gov. Dave Heineman if he ran against Nelson, while Nelson would get just 30 percent of the vote.

Nelson would win back a significant number of voters if he ultimately blocked the health care bill's passage, but he would lose a portion of his more liberal supporters. He would still lose in a match-up with Heineman, according to the poll, but by a smaller margin: 47 percent to 37 percent.

Once the Senate and House merge their health care bills, both chambers will have to vote on the reform package again. If Nelson were to drop his support at that point, 20 percent of those who initially said they would vote for Heineman said they would instead vote for Nelson. Another 6 percent of Heineman supporters said they were not sure how they would vote in that scenario. However, 10 percent of voters -- mostly voters who initially supported Nelson -- said they would prefer a third-party candidate if he blocks the health care bill.

Only 26 percent of Nebraska voters said Nelson has done a good or excellent job in the health care debate, while 47 percent said he has done a poor job. Overall, 55 percent have a negative view of the senator, and 40 percent have a favorable view.