The American Conservative Union will begin awarding grades to state lawmakers in five 2012 general election battleground states this year, ACU Chairman Al Cardenas said.
The state report cards will represent the first expansion beyond Congress of ACU's annual assessments of the voting records of lawmakers since the organization began issuing grades for U.S. House and Senate members in 1971.
The ACU chose Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia and North Carolina to target for grading.
Political observers say any of these states could spell the difference between victory and defeat in the Electoral College for President Obama's bid to win re-election.
But giving a conservative who wins the White House next year as close to a veto-proof Congress as possible will be critical, Mr. Cardenas said. The outcomes of Senate and Houses races in the five selected states could at least strip Democrats of their majority in the Senate and enhance the GOP majority in the House.
The ACU, which holds the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, also announced plans for expanding its role in other areas, including the establishment of regional CPACs.
"With the growth of government expanding faster than at any time in the history of our country, the ACU intends to expand its role in giving the American people the tools they need to make informed voting decisions at every level of government," said Mr. Cardenas, a former Florida GOP chairman.
The ACU also intends to make use of traditional and "new media" to "advocate more aggressively than ever before" in support of conservative policy initiatives and legislation and to oppose anything that would, in ACU's view, weaken individual freedom, free-market competition and the states' constitutional authority.
The organization whose leadership Mr. Cardenas assumed earlier this year also plans to "educate members of Congress, supporters and grass-roots conservatives on key issues," Mr. Cardenas said.
The issues, he said, will range from the opposition to T. Boone Pickens' natural gas bill that critics say would give billions of dollars in tax incentives for the production and use of natural gas vehicles to the fight over President Obama's commerce secretary nominee, John Bryson.
Another ambitious move by ACU that Mr. Cardenas is promising is the establishment of the "ACU University," which he described as a virtual school for conservatives across the country, featuring classes and seminars, interaction between students and national conservative leaders and a "one-of-a-kind curriculum aimed at growing the national conservative movement."
"A recent Google search for "ACU Ratings" returned more than 966,000 website citations of the powerful ratings index," said Gregg Keller, the new national executive director. "ACU Ratings are published by the Almanac of American Politics, Congressional Quarterly and the National Journal, among others."
The ACU's legislator report cards are based not on partisan criteria but on whether a lawmaker cast a vote for a bill that conservatives support and liberals oppose or vice versa. Because Republicans more often than not support legislation that conservatives also favor, the ACU has long been considered the gold standard to help judge the consistency of conservative votes that individual GOP lawmakers have cast.
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Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.
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