Partisan Rankings Take Center Stage in Senate’s Political Contest

July 15, 2014

WASHINGTON – The candidates for Colorado’s Senate seat have portrayed each other as having political positions that put them at odds with moderate voters, but a look at their voting records shows each has been a reliable partisan for their party.

Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall was the 33rd most liberal senator in the 100-member body, according to National Journal’s 2013 congressional scorecard.

Udall’s ranking put him to the political left of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who refers to his ideological affiliation as a Democratic Socialist. Also, it put him to the left of fellow Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who ranked as the 40th most liberal senator. Udall was just two clicks to the right of progressive stalwart Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was rated the 31st most liberal senator.

Udall has not strayed far ideologically in his first Senate term. He was ranked as the 30th most liberal senator in 2011 and the 35th in his first year in the upper chamber in 2009. His ranking dropped to 43rd in 2010 and 39th in 2012.

As a conservative, Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner ranked 98 out of 435 House members.

Gardner ranking put him to the left of a few Republicans in blue states, such as Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland and Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. Gardner’s voting record moved a few notches to the center last year. He was ranked as the 40th most conservative member in 2011 and the 10th most conservative in 2012.

In other Colorado rankings, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette was the 26th most liberal member of the House, while Jared Polis’s liberal ranking was 144 and Ed Perlmutter was 171. Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn had the most conservative ranking at 87, followed by Reps. Scott Tipton at 182 and Mike Coffman at 188.

The Senate candidates’ voting records came under scrutiny last week after a political blog reported that Udall had the most liberal voting record of the 10 candidates in a closely fought Senate contest.

On Friday, Udall’s campaign Twitter account shot back by citing Gardner’s ranking in National Journal two years ago and accused him of being too partisan for Colorado.

National Journal, a Washington-based publication, rates the ideological composition of members’ votes on key economic, social, and foreign policy issues. To qualify, the vote could not pertain to a regional issue or be non-controversial issue such as the naming of a post office.

The rankings come as members of both parties have moved to the left or right rather than the center in recent decades. National Journal noted that in the Senate in 2013, this was the second straight year in which a Democrat was not considered more conservative than a Republican or a Republican more liberal than a Democrat.

Although Udall and Gardner have sought to paint the other as out of the mainstream, the ideological makeup of a member’s voting record is not an insuperable obstacle to higher office.

Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, compiled the fifth most liberal voting record in 2013 and won a heavily contested recount in 2008. Although the Rothenberg Political Report moved his race from “Safe Democrat” to “Democrat Favored” today, Stuart Rothenberg warned that “readers should not make too much of the change.”

Yet both Udall and Gardner recognize the importance of appealing to the state’s large swathe of independent voters. Each has moved to the ideological center in an effort to appeal to a larger, more diverse constituency for the Nov. 4 election.

In his first few years in the House, Udall compiled a more liberal voting record than later in his career. His rating was 76 percent in 2000 and 50 percent in 2008. The latter rating made Udall the 203rd most liberal member in the House, but he was one of the most liberal House members in 2000. National Journal did not rank members until 2007.

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