Mark Trahant: Health care reform vote as a litmus test
"Depending on where you live, you might be seeing TV commercials every few hours warning about the dangers of health care reform. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending millions to stop this legislation. Most people live in districts where the members have already decided. If they’re Republicans, their vote is an automatic no. And, most Democrats are solid on the “aye” side, so the debate boils down to a few dozen Democrats who could vote either way.

South Dakota Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is a Democrat who’s on the fence. She said last month: “Since the outset of the health care reform debate last year, I’ve said that any health care proposal must meet the dual goals of increasing access to quality care while decreasing cost. I voted against the House version of the health care bill because it failed to meet these goals for South Dakota.”

She’s also said the Senate bill doesn’t meet this test. But is that a no? We don’t know. Yet. We’re waiting for her final answer this week.

There are political considerations. Herseth Sandlin represents a conservative-leaning state (John McCain carried South Dakota by 8 points over President Obama). A poll last month by Rasmussen Reports shows her ahead of the G.O.P. challenger by 7 points, with 11 percent of those surveyed saying they were undecided. And these are not good numbers for her because she’s an incumbent who’s polling less than a 50 percent majority.

But these polls miss Indian Country. While South Dakotans vote about 3-to-2 Republican, counties where American Indians are in the majority vote almost 80 percent in favor of Democratic candidates. Herseth Sandlin did even better than that, winning Pine Ridge with nearly 97 percent of the vote. Even with a smaller turnout than the rest of the state this is critical because it helps a candidate make up ground quickly from the counties lost by a narrow margin. Make no mistake: a Democrat cannot win in South Dakota without the American Indian vote."

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Health care reform vote should be a litmus test (Mark Trahant 3/15)

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