In a bold push to pass a public option for insurance coverage, a progressive advocacy group is launching an ad campaign directly calling into question the toughness of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is going up on air in Nevada starting Wednesday with one of its most direct and aggressive ads to date. Titled (unambiguously) "Is Harry Reid Strong Enough?" the spot uses the testimony of a local constituent to raise questions about the Nevada Democrat's effectiveness as majority leader. And in a line designed to stir the pot, the group raises the specter of Democratic voters abandoning the already endangered Reid in 2010 should he fail to get a public option passed.
"I'm your typical swing voter," says Lee Slaughter, a Las Vegas-based health care professional whose insurer refused to cover all of the care she needed for her broken hips. "I voted for Republicans for president, and I voted for President Obama. I also voted for Senator Harry Reid many times. But in 2010, I'll only be voting on one issue. I'm watching to see if Harry Reid is strong and effective enough as a leader to pass a public health insurance option into law. Here in Nevada the majority wants it. Senator Reid, these insurance companies cannot be trusted with our lives. Nevadans want the choice of a public option."
The spot -- obtained exclusively by the Huffington Post -- comes on the heels of similar efforts by the PCCC to push the hand of other Democratic lawmakers. But earlier targets, including Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., were primarily conservative Democrats who either opposed the public option outright or were only tepid endorsers.
Reid, the highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, is a self-proclaimed public option proponent. He has, however, also stressed that his current priority is to cobble together the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster on health care reform. And as he takes over the leadership role in merging different variations of health care legislation in the Senate, there have been indications that he's prepared to abandon the government-run plan.
In going after Reid on this front, the PCCC has two important data points at its disposal. A September 2009 poll commissioned by Daily Kos showed that 52 percent of Nevadans support a public option. In that same survey, only 36 percent of respondents said they had favorable view of Reid -- 52 percent said their view was unfavorable.
Hoping that in-state political dynamics can have an impact on the national health care debate, the PCCC is devoting $50,000 to its Nevada ad purchase. That, said the group's co-founder Adam Green, should get the spot on air in the Las Vegas media market approximately 200 times. But as the group has done with past ads, it will expand the buy depending on how well it can fundraise online. The goal, Green said, is to raise $100,000 for the campaign.
A request for comment from Reid's Senate office was not immediately returned on Sunday evening.
UPDATE: Reid's office replies to the PCCC remark with a line it has used throughout the health care debate -- expressing personal preference for the public plan while leaving open the possibility that it might not make it into the final bill.
"Senator Reid has always been a strong supporter of the public option and he will continue to work with the White House and the relevant committees to pass the strongest bill possible," read a statement given to the Huffington Post.