Saturday, March 4, 2006

With a dozen or so U.S. senators giving serious consideration to running for their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, voters will want to know how the political ideologies of these potential candidates rank among their colleagues. Arguably, voters can best discern the relative ideologies by comparing the votes they cast on identical issues.

Both the nonpartisan National Journal and the liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) have recently released their 2005 voting guides, ranking the ideological purity of members of Congress. Herewith is a review of those rankings among the five Democratic senators — Evan Bayh of Indiana, Joe Biden of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin and John Kerry of Massachusetts — who are likely to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

ADA followed its customary practice of selecting what it considers to be the 20 most important votes of the year and awarding a senator five points for each vote in support of ADA’s position. Senators voting ADA’s way all the time receive a “liberal quotient” of 100 percent and are officially designated a “Hero.”

After registering four consecutive scores of 95 percent (2001-04), Mrs. Clinton finally achieved the status of ADA “Hero” last year. Other “Heroes” included Messrs. Biden, Kerry and Feingold. Mr. Bayh, who scored 95 percent, was one of three Democrats to join a virtually unanimous Republican front to defeat an amendment that would have prohibited the funding of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, or “bunker buster” weapon.

The National Journal’s rating system is more complex. It ranks the 100 senators on liberal and conservative continuums. In addition to providing sub-rankings according to senators’ positions on economic issues (41 votes in 2005), social concerns (16 votes) and foreign-policy matters (13 votes), the National Journal provides composite liberal and conservative scores. In early 2004, it may be recalled, the National Journal’s rating system identified Mr. Kerry as the most liberal senator in 2003, a distinction that the Bush White House emphasized throughout the campaign.

Although Mr. Kerry remains the only senator to be identified as the Senate’s most liberal member in four different years since National Journal initiated its rating system 25 years ago, Sen. Ted Kennedy captured that position in 2005. Still, Mr. Kerry was ranked the most liberal senator among the five likely to seek the Democratic nomination in 2008. On a continuum from 0 to 100, Mr. Kerry received a composite liberal score of 86.7 in 2005, making him the eighth most liberal senator last year. Trailing him in 2005 were Mr. Feingold (85.2, 14th); Mr. Biden (80.2, 19th); Mrs. Clinton (79.8, 20th); and Mr. Bayh (70.7, 34th).

The National Journal also helpfully supplied lifetime average composite liberal scores. Among the five likely presidential candidates in 2008, Mr. Kerry’s was the highest: 85.7 since 1985. The others’ average lifetime liberal composite scores are: Mr. Feingold (80.6 since 1993); Mrs. Clinton (80.5 since 2001); Mr. Biden (76.8 since 1981, although he was first elected in 1972); and Mr. Bayh (63.2 since 1999).

Recall that these “composite” figures represent an aggregate liberal score based upon 70 roll-call votes classified as either economic, social or foreign-policy issues. For each of the three categories, the National Journal’s system enables it to declare that a member is more liberal than a specific percent of the Senate. For example, Mr. Kerry’s 86.7 liberal composite score in 2005 results from his voting record being more liberal than 91 percent of the Senate on economic issues, more liberal than 90 percent of the Senate on social issues and more liberal than 72 percent of the Senate on foreign-policy issues. Similar conclusions were drawn for the others.

Last year, Mrs. Clinton was determined to be more liberal than 84 percent of the Senate (economic issues); 83 percent (social); and 66 percent (foreign policy). The percentages for the others are: Mr. Biden (73, 83, 76); Mr. Feingold (76, 83, 90); and Mr. Bayh (66, 83, 58).

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