Ben Nelson Sure Isn't Popular in Nebraska Anymore

How badly did Ben Nelson miscalculate?

Clearly, the once-popular former Governor tried to have his cake and eat it too. He didn’t want to take the ‘blame’ for killing the president’s health care rationing bill, but he also did not want to seem like a liberal extremist. So he calculated that he could be a hero to both sides if he led the way on eliminating the supposed inequities in the bill, and ensured the passage of a moderate compromise. Instead, it seems the voters of Nebraska recognize that he’s more responsible than anyone for bringing a terrible bill close to final passage:

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and his wife were leaving dinner at a new pizza joint near their home in Omaha one night last week when a patron began complaining about Nelson’s decisive vote in favor of the Senate’s health care bill.

Other customers started booing. A woman yelled, “Get him the hell out of here!” And the Nelsons and their dining companions beat a hasty retreat.

“It was definitely a scene in there,” said Tom Lewis, a 41-year-old dentist and registered Republican who witnessed the incident.

It’s a new experience for Nelson.

He used to be a popular figure back home, a Democrat who served eight years in the governor’s office and was elected twice to the Senate by a state that’s as red as the “N” on football helmets…

Anti-abortion activists who have supported him in the past have abandoned him; he’s been the target of a fierce campaign by opponents to push him to block the bill on final passage; and the GOP now sees the opportunity for a pickup in 2012.

Meantime, Nelson is still viewed warily by more liberal Democrats who distrust his conservative leanings and remain upset with his opposition to a public option.

It sounds as if Ben Nelson may be doomed for re-election – even though he doesn’t face the voters for another three years. Right now he stands as the critical vote in favor of the most unpopular part of an unpopular president’s agenda. And what’s worse, that same president will be at the top of the ticket when Nelson seeks re-election in a deep red state. It may be too late for Nelson to save his re-election hopes, or it may be that he still has a chance – if he votes to kill a bill that will never be popular in a state like Nebraska.

It’s clear at least, that Cornhusker voters won’t be fooled anymore.