Progressive Punch has added a new and incredibly useful layer of analysis to its rankings of members of Congress by voting record.
The “Select by Score” pages now indicate how progressive representatives and senators are compared to the districts and states they represent.
As before, you see members of the House and Senate ranked from most progressive to least progressive, based on all votes as well as on certain “crucial votes.” Calculating a separate score for “crucial votes” reveals which Democrats are not reliable when the chips are down. This helps prevent gaming of the system, as when Joe Lieberman voted against filibustering Samuel Alito’s nomination for the Supreme Court, then turned around and voted against confirming him.
For the new feature, Progressive Punch has placed every state and Congressional district into one of five categories: strong D, lean D, swing, lean R, and strong R. Each Congress-critter’s “crucial vote” score is then compared to the political lean of the district or state. In the right-hand column on the “Select by Score” pages, every member of Congress now has a rating from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most progressive. Progressive Punch explains:
The “%” and “Rating” columns underneath the “Progressive Score vs. State Tilt” are two different ways of measuring the same thing. They both measure how naughty or nice a member of Congress’ voting record has been in relation to his/her district. We’re grading on a curve. Five stars in the “Rating” column indicate members of Congress who are doing the best in terms of voting MORE progressively than could necessarily be expected given their states or districts. Those with one star are performing the worst in relation to their districts.
Why is this useful? It’s now much easier to see which Democrats in Congress are voting about as well as could be expected, and which ones should be doing a lot better.
Here are a few examples. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Harry Reid have identical lifetime progressive scores on crucial votes. However, since Feinstein represents a strong Democratic state (CA) and Reid represents a swing state (NV), Feinstein gets a 1 while Reid gets a 3.
Ron Wyden (OR), Barbara Mikulski (MD) and Amy Klobuchar (MN) have very similar lifetime scores, but Wyden and Klobuchar get 4s because they represent lean-Democrat states. Mikulski gets a 3 when graded on a curve that takes into account Maryland’s solid Democratic profile.
Similarly, Daniel Inouye (HI) gets a 1, while Jon Tester (MT) gets a 3 for almost the same “crucial vote” score, because Montana leans Republican.
Jeff Bingaman (NM), Jim Webb (VA) and Byron Dorgan (ND) have very similar progressive lifetime scores, but Bingaman gets a 2 for representing a lean-Democrat state, Webb gets a 3 for representing a swing state, and Dorgan gets a 4 for representing a lean-Republican state.
Scanning down the Select by Score House page, a few Democrats stand out. There’s Timothy Bishop (NY-01) with a 5 rating for how he represents his swing district, while most of the House members with similar lifetime scores get 3s, because they represent strong Democratic districts.
Dave Obey (WI-07) and Peter DeFazio (OR-04) get 4s because they represent lean-Democrat districts. Most of the House members with similar lifetime progressive scores get 3s.
Amid a large group of House Democrats who get a 2 when their crucial vote score is compared to how strongly Democratic their districts are, James Oberstar (MN-08) gets a 4 for a similar progressive score because he represents a swing district, while Michael Michaud (ME-02) and Paul Hodes (NH-02) get a 3 because their districts lean Democratic.
How can progressives use this information? One way would be to determine which incumbents in safe Democratic seats should face more pressure from the left. In extreme cases, this pressure could include a primary challenge.
Also, these rankings reveal which Democratic primaries should become top priorities for progressives when incumbents retire. For example, John Murtha (PA-12) and Henry Cuellar (TX-28) represent strongly Democratic districts but vote like Democrats representing swing or Republican districts.
I discussed Iowa representatives’ rankings in more detail at Bleeding Heartland. The relatively low score for Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was no surprise, but Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) didn’t fare much better when graded on the Progressive Punch curve that took into account their strongly Democratic districts.