- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

Sen. John Kerry has the most liberal voting record on defense legislation of all of his Senate rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to several advocacy groups that rate lawmakers’ votes.

The Americans for Democratic Action, one of the nation’s oldest and most liberal advocacy organizations, gives the Massachusetts Democrat a stellar 93 percent score for the votes he has cast on national security amendments and bills during his Senate career — from questioning antimissile defense systems to supporting nuclear test-ban treaties. His grade is by far the most liberal among the top tier of Senate Democratic candidates seeking their party’s nomination for president in 2004.

According to the ADA’s scorecard, Mr. Kerry’s nearest rival for the most liberal score was Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who received a grade of 71.5 percent, followed by Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, 51 percent, and Bob Graham of Florida, 48 percent.

With the exception of Mr. Graham, all of these senators voted to approve the use of military force in the war in Iraq.

Former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, who opposed going to war, compiled an 88 percent liberal vote score during her congressional career, the ADA said.

Among the Democratic presidential candidates in the House, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, a bitter foe of the war, scored a perfect 100 percent ADA grade, while Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who helped to write Mr. Bush’s war resolution, received a score of 60 percent.

Mr. Kerry also has received high liberal scores from the Council for a Livable World for his votes in favor of arms control, test bans and other initiatives pushed by peace activists. His scores ranged from a perfect grade of 100 to the 90s and high 80s during the past decade, the council’s scorekeeping records showed.

“Kerry has a very good record as far as we’re concerned. On issues we have looked at such as missile defense, building Cold War weapons, some votes on arms control treaties, Kerry has been very supportive of our positions,” said John Isaacs, president of the council.

“Lieberman is the most conservative on national security issues, much more hawkish,” Mr. Isaacs said.

Mr. Kerry, the acknowledged front-runner for his party’s nomination, has sought to strengthen his image on national defense in the past two years. While he supported the president’s decision to send troops into Iraq, he also has been a severe critic of the way Mr. Bush handled the diplomatic effort to build a broader international coalition to support the war.

He has been a critic of a national missile defense system ever since it was proposed by President Reagan, though he voted in 2001 to give Mr. Bush the funding he sought to further test and develop antimissile missiles.

Mr. Kerry, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and their more liberal Democratic rivals for the nomination were lectured sternly earlier this month by Mr. Lieberman, who accused Mr. Kerry of being “ambivalent” about going to war in Iraq and trying to play both sides of the issue to appeal to the party’s large antiwar base.

“No Democrat will be elected president in 2004 who is not strong on defense, and this war was a test of that,” Mr. Lieberman told his fellow Democrats during a campaign debate in Columbia, S.C., on May 3.

“How can we win this election if we send a message of weakness on defense and security after September 11, 2001, to the American people?” he asked.

Ever since the 2001 terrorist attacks, opinion polls regularly have shown national security and defense issues are one of the top concerns among voters, just behind the economy and jobs. These same polls show voters by a sizable margin trust Mr. Bush more than the Democrats to protect the country.

Mr. Kerry’s voting record receives low marks from conservative advocacy groups pushing for stronger defense programs.

One of the most conservative congressional scorekeepers on national security issues is the Center for Security Policy, which gives Mr. Kerry a failing grade of 10 for his defense votes during the past five years in the Senate.

A sampling of the Senate votes tracked by the center that went into Mr. Kerry’s grade included:

A 1998 vote to continue a Democratic filibuster to block a bill that proposed to deploy a national missile defense system as soon as it was technologically feasible.

A 2000 vote for a Democratic amendment that sought to restrict development of an antimissile defense system by imposing tougher testing mandates and bringing the entire Pentagon program under the review of an “independent panel.”

But in the past two years, since the terrorist attacks, Mr. Kerry has become more conservative in his votes on getting tough with Iraq. Last year, he voted against a Democratic amendment to authorize the use of force in Iraq only if it was approved by a new resolution in the U.N. Security Council.

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