The House's Blue Dog Democrats have voiced loud objections to the costs of health care reform efforts working their way through several committees, ultimately causing President Obama and their party's congressional leadership to pull back on the deadline they had set for passing a plan.
As Chris Cillizza pointed out over at The Fix, many of the Blue Dogs live in districts that Barack Obama did not carry last November, and are concerned about the impact of voting for sweeping policies perceived to be "liberal" when they represent not-so-liberal places.
In the districts currently represented by members of the Blue Dog coalition, Obama averaged 48 percent of the vote to McCain's 50. McCain carried 32 of those districts compared with Obama's 19. Of the 206 districts represented by non-Blue Dog Democrats, Obama won 189 with an average of 65 percent of the votes.
But the results of the 2008 election only tell part of the story. Looking at how those who live in the districts represented by the Blue Dogs view Obama and the health care issue make it clear why their representatives are so concerned.
According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama's overall approval rating in these districts has taken a hit since June. Among those living in the 51 congressional Districts represented by members of the Blue Dog coalition, it's fallen from 71 percent to 57 percent. While among those in districts represented by other Democrats, it's held about even at 67 percent.
And those in Blue Dog districts are somewhat less apt than those in other Democratic districts to consider Obama a new-style Democrat "who will be careful with the public's money." Less than half (49 percent) of those represented by Blue Dogs say he fits that description, compared with nearly six in 10 (58 percent) who live in other Democratic districts.
Turning specifically to health care, those in Blue Dog districts are closely divided (51 percent support, 48 percent oppose) on a proposal that would require individuals to carry health insurance and most employers to offer plans to their employees, include a public option and raise taxes on people with higher incomes in order to offset the costs. Among those who live in other Democrats' districts, the plan garners a clearer majority (56 percent to 40 percent).
Majorities in both Blue Dog (54 percent) and other Democratic districts (53 percent) say Obama is placing the right amount of a priority on health care, but those in Blue Dog districts who say Obama's priorities are misplaced are more likely to say he's overreaching (26 percent) than aiming too low (15 percent).
Finally, one change that could directly impact the fate of Blue Dogs themselves: in April, congressional Democrats held a 53 to 31 percent advantage in approval ratings over Republicans in Congress among those who live in Blue Dog districts. Now, both Democrats and Republicans are at 44 percent.
The Post-ABC News poll was conducted July 15-18 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults including users of both conventional and cellular phones. The survey included interviews with 131 adults in Blue Dog districts. The margin of sampling error for results from the full survey is plus or minus three percentage points, it is 8.6 points among those in Blue Dog districts.