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Obama more liberal than Kucinich, analysis reveals

Steven Thomma
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

WASHINGTON -- The most liberal member of Congress running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination isn't Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

It's Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

And the Republican candidate who's grown less conservative over his years in Congress? Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Those are among the interesting findings in a recent analysis of votes by all the members of Congress who are running for president. They cut to the heart of debates going on among activists in both major parties: Can a liberal Democrat win a general election? Which Republican is ideologically pure enough to win support from conservatives?

The study, released this month by the National Journal, a respected inside-the-Beltway research report, will help voters cut through the spin and hype of TV sound bites in coming months and judge these candidates for themselves.

Unlike TV commercials that focus on a single vote, these rankings are based on comprehensive voting records. The 2006 scores, for example, were based on as many as 95 votes on such issues as federal spending, tax cuts, the war in Iraq, embryonic stem-cell research and border security.

On the Democratic side, the analysis of "lifetime" voting records shows Obama as the most liberal with a score of 84.3 after two full years in the Senate. The most liberal score possible was 99.

The lifetime liberal scores for the other Democrats:

Kucinich, 79.4

Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, 79.2

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, 78.8

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, 76.8

The rankings differ if you look only at their 2006 scores. That year Kucinich edged Obama by one point as the most liberal, and Clinton was the least liberal, as she sought re-election and prepared to launch her presidential campaign.

Their ideological purity also varies by issue areas.

Obama, for example, is more liberal on economic and foreign policy issues and slightly less liberal on social policies. Clinton and Dodd are most liberal on social policy questions, less so on economic and foreign policy votes.

Biden is most liberal on economics, much less so on foreign policy.

The most conservative member of Congress seeking the Republican nomination -- based on lifetime voting records -- is Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, with a score of 82.5. The most conservative score possible was 99.

Lifetime scores for the other Republicans:

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, 81

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, 75.9

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, 71.8

Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, 71.5

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, 51.7

The year-to-year scores can reveal consistency or change. McCain, for example, grew increasingly less conservative in recent years. He started with annual conservative scores consistently in the 80s when he first went to the Senate in 1987, dipped to the 70s during the mid-1990s, into the 60s in the late 1990s and into the 50s starting in 2004.

The GOP candidates' votes also reveal big differences issue to issue.

Brownback, for example, got a score of 53 on social issues for his 2006 votes and a 92 for votes on economic issues.

Hagel, too, got lower conservative marks for social issues and higher conservative scores for economic and foreign policy votes.

McCain got a 46 for social issues -- left of center -- and more conservative grades for economic and foreign policy issues.

For more on the National Journal scorecard, go here.

For comments or questions, go here.

___

(Steven Thomma is chief political correspondent for the McClatchy Washington bureau.)


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