National Journal annually ranks Senators and Representatives for their liberal and conservative track records for the previous year. The non-partisan publication's credibility allows these rankings to carry considerable weight. This year, their choice may land them in the middle of a presidential election:
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was the most liberal senator in 2007, according to National Journal's 27th annual vote ratings. The insurgent presidential candidate shifted further to the left last year in the run-up to the primaries, after ranking as the 16th- and 10th-most-liberal during his first two years in the Senate.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the other front-runner in the Democratic presidential race, also shifted to the left last year. She ranked as the 16th-most-liberal senator in the 2007 ratings, a computer-assisted analysis that used 99 key Senate votes, selected by NJ reporters and editors, to place every senator on a liberal-to-conservative scale in each of three issue categories. In 2006, Clinton was the 32nd-most-liberal senator.
In their yearlong race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama and Clinton have had strikingly similar voting records. Of the 267 measures on which both senators cast votes in 2007, the two differed on only 10. "The policy differences between Clinton and Obama are so slight they are almost nonexistent to the average voter," said Richard Lau, a Rutgers University political scientist.
This supports what I noted when Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama last week. The endorsement revealed the direction of Obama's practical politics rather than his high-minded (and apparently sincere) efforts to debate them in a friendly, collegial manner. Kennedy backed Obama because Obama's voting record reveals the junior Senator from Illinois to be the same kind of hard-Left policymaker that Kennedy has been for most of his career.
The drift of both candidates to the Left also seems significant. As the presidential race has drawn closer, both Obama and Clinton have tried to bolster their liberal credentials. It doesn't take a genius to understand why. Most of the energy -- and money -- in Democratic politics now comes from groups like MoveOn and ANSWER, which has demanded a leftward turn in politics from party leaders. Hillary started off attempting to move to the center, but as time wore on and the wind shifted, so did she.
John McCain did not make enough votes to get a rating in 2007, spending a great deal of time campaigning for the presidency. His lifetime NJ composite rating is a 71.8 conservative score, not bad but not exactly leading-edge. Chuck Hagel got a 71.5 and Sam Brownback an 81, for comparison. However, the last several years shows a much lower rating than the lifetime score:
2006 - 56.7
2005 - 59.2
2004 - 51.7
Those numbers will not give conservatives much hope if McCain wins the nomination.