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Public Option Activists Launch 'Cascade' Campaign, Polling Effort

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Activists hoping to keep up momentum for the late stage push for a public option for insurance coverage are commissioning a set of polls in strategic states to show the level of support for passing the provision through a congressional process known as budget reconciliation.

The progressive troika, which includes the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, and Credo Action, is sponsoring public opinion surveys in Washington, Nevada, Illinois, and North Dakota, with other states also under consideration. Each state contains either a key member of Senate Democratic leadership -- Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), fourth-ranking Patty Murray (D-Wash.) -- or a caucus member who has been skittish about using reconciliation to pass a public plan -- Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

The findings will be released next week. But one number was leaked early to the Huffington Post. Asked whether Durbin should "fight to include a public health insurance option in the bill" if "Senate Democrats use 'reconciliation' to pass the final elements of health care reform," 42 respondents said "yes," 7 percent said "no" and 51 percent were "unsure."

For officials involved in the campaign, the hope is that findings like these will reflect a strong public appetite for using reconciliation to create a government-run insurance option. On a broader level, the goal is to create a "cascading" effect, in which a sequence of news stories favorable to the idea of using the budgetary procedure to pass a public plan build on top of each other.

To a certain extent, the strategy has already worked, with several senators following the lead of their state colleagues (Chuck Schumer followed Kirsten Gillibrand in endorsing the reconciliation path; Barbara Boxer followed Dianne Feinstein). The groups behind the polls have placed thousands of calls to Democratic senators and collected thank you notes to support the senators who have signed the letter to facilitate further cascading.

The big concern, however, is that without an actual vote, a host of on-the-fence senators will have no compelling reason to leave the fence for fear of forfeiting their leverage in negotiations. And with Reid saying he will endorse the idea of using reconciliation for a public option only when he's sure that 50 other senators also support it, the simple majority could stay out of reach.