Which Congressional Democrats are progressive enough?

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.

Select by Score Senate rankings

Select by Score House rankings

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.

For more details on the methodology behind this analysis, click here for House ratings and here for Senate ratings.

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.

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Republicans on very thin ice with stimulus obstructionism

In the ongoing debate about the fallout of the stimulus package's passing in the House without a single Republican vote there are some rainclouds that threaten to disrupt the congratulatory shoulder patting and guffawing Republicans seem intent to engage in at the moment, believing that they somehow "scored a victory" by being principled and united in opposition.

Reality seems to paint a different picture. There seems to be very little wiggle room between the thin ice the Republicans on a whole are balancing on here and the cliff they may already have crossed, unaware that like Wiley E. Coyote they are going to look down any moment now to see the bottom below their feet vanished.  

1. Support for the stimulus package appears to be growing in the wake of the House vote

http://www.democracycorps.com/strategy/2 009/01/president-barack-obama/

Poll pdf: http://www.democracycorps.com/wp-content /files/dc10012909fq1sperling.pdf

In this week's national survey, completed as this plan was being debate, 62 percent support Obama's economic recovery plan - more than twice as many who oppose (27 percent).

As this poll was conducted from Jan. 26 through Jan 29 - 1000 likely voters - this is the first poll that draws entirely from responses given AFTER the historic House vote.  We are talking support for the package to the tune of +35%, a poll blowout.

2. Obama's personal ratings improved in the wake of the House vote

From the same DC poll referenced above:

Over 70 percent of voters now describe the president as honest and trustworthy, and three-quarters say he is a strong leader. While Obama's outreach to Republicans may not have generated any Republican votes on his economic plan in the House, it is clearly cementing his reputation as a bipartisan problem solver; an astounding 80 percent of voters, including 56 percent of Republicans, say Obama is willing to work with both parties.

Overall approval ratings:

Obama boasts his strongest personal ratings yet, now enjoying a better than 3:1 favorable-unfavorable ratio nationally.

Latest Rasmussen numbers published on Saturday appear to back this up:

http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_c ontent/politics/obama_administration/dai ly_presidential_approval_index

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Approval Index for Saturday shows that 45% of the nation's voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing as President. That's his highest positive rating yet. Twenty-two percent (22%) Strongly Disapprove to give Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of +23 (see trends).

The real risks Republicans are facing with their obstructionism to the stimulus package is analyzed in the CSM article after the break into the extended entry, as well as additional likely reasons Republicans may be laughing all the way into a gigantic buzzsaw right about now:

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"This Inauguration was brought to you by...."

I watched the events at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday with my eyes tearing up on multiple occasions. It was both emotional and incredible, to say the least. At the end, I realized that an acquaintance--someone in the music industry whom I respect immensely for his talent and genius--had actually been one of the senior folks involved in its production, and that was just icing on the cake.

Then I went online to get my daily dose of news, and as usual, I made my way over to one of my favorite haunts, The Automatic Earth, only to see Ilargi going a little over the top about the costs of the Inaugural production(s). However, the guy's argument did have some merit to it. $50 million is a lot of money for a Party, considering how tough times are right now. But, I thought to myself, "If this funding is coming from the private sector, then what the hell."

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The Republicans' problem is what they say, not how they say it

The State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Iowa picked a new party chairman yesterday. The winner was Matt Strawn, a former Congressional staffer best known as part of the group that owns the Iowa Barnstormers arena football team.

I've written more at Bleeding Heartland about the challenges facing Strawn as he takes over the divided Republican Party of Iowa, so I won't go into too much detail about Iowa politics here.

I thought the MyDD community would be interested in Strawn's promise to use technology to improve Republicans' standing with younger voters:

Strawn, 35, noted that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama beat Republican John McCain by 2-1 among young adults in Iowa. He said part of the problem is Republicans have failed to use modern communications methods, such as Twitter and Facebook. People are left with the impression that the party either doesn't know how to use those channels or doesn't care to, he said. "Either way, we're sending a terrible message." [...]

Strawn said at a press conference that he would reach out to all age groups as he seeks to build up party registrations, raise money and recruit strong candidates for office. He vowed to regain the majorities in both houses of the Legislature, win back the governorship and make gains in Congress.

He said Republicans could do all those things without watering down the party's conservative priorities. "If we communicate our beliefs, we can win elections," he said.

There's no question that the Republican Party lost young voters by large margins in 2006 and 2008, and not just in Iowa. This map created by Mike Connery shows that if only voters aged 18-29 had cast ballots for president, John McCain would have won fewer than ten states.

Republicans should be asking themselves why young voters are rejecting their candidates in such large numbers. It wasn't always this way. When I was growing up in the 1980s, the Republican Party did quite well with the 18-30 age group, including college students. In fact, my age cohort is still relatively strong for Republicans. (A chart in this post shows the presidential vote among young Americans for the past 30 years.)

Strawn's answer is that the GOP's failure to fully exploit new technology is "sending a terrible message" to young voters. He won over State Central Committee members in part thanks to a technologically savvy online campaign (a blog with occasional YouTube video postings).

I sincerely hope that Republicans continue to believe that their recent election losses are rooted in communication problems. I think the Republicans' ideology is what turns off young voters. The tendency for Republicans to campaign on "culture war" issues exacerbates this problem, highlighting the topics that make the party seem out of touch to younger voters.

Some Republicans want their candidates to emphasize economic issues more and downplay divisive social issues. Shortly after the election, Doug Gross discussed the Republican Party's problems on Iowa Public Television. Gross worked for Republican Governors Bob Ray and Terry Branstad in the 1970s and 1980s, and he was the Republican nominee for governor against Tom Vilsack in 2002. Gross had this advice for Republican candidates:

What we really have to do is speak to the fundamental issues that Iowans care about which is I'm working hard every day, in many cases a couple of jobs, my wife works as well, we take care of our kids and yet the government is going to increase our taxes, they're going to increase spending and they're going to give that to somebody who is not working.  That kind of message will win for republicans among the people we have and we've gotten away from that.  

Ah yes, the glory days, when Republicans could win by running against "tax and spend" Democrats who supposedly took money away from hard-working Americans and gave it to "welfare queens" and other unemployed ne'er-do-wells.

I am not convinced that this is a winning message anymore. Nationwide exit polling from the most recent election showed that a majority of voters believe government should do more, not less. The same exit poll found Barack Obama won even though most people believed Republican claims that he would raise taxes.

Moreover, rising unemployment is not just an issue for lower-income or blue-collar workers. Layoffs are also hitting groups that have trended toward the Democratic Party in the last decade: suburban dwellers, white-collar professionals and college-educated whites generally. Even in affluent neighborhoods, just about everyone knows someone who has been laid off in the past six months. Government assistance to the unemployed may be more popular now than it was in the 1980s.

Losing your job means losing your health insurance for many Americans, which is particularly scary for those who have "pre-existing conditions." More and more people are delaying routine preventive care and treatment for chronic conditions in this tough economy. Other families have been devastated after a private insurance company denied coverage for expensive, medically necessary procedures.

I believe that the problems with our health care system are another reason that Republican "small government" rhetoric has less salience now than it did 20 years ago.

As I've written before, Republican prospects for a comeback may have less to do with new GOP leadership than with how well the Democrats govern. If Democrats do well, they will keep winning elections. If they screw up, the Republicans may rebound no matter what party leaders do at the RNC or in contested states like Iowa.

On the other hand, if Republicans want to do more than sit back and wait for Democrats to self-destruct, they will need to acknowledge that their problems go beyond communication skills. Many conservative beliefs are outside the American mainstream. I don't think the Republican Party can twitter and YouTube its way out of the hole they're in, especially when it comes to younger voters.

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Van Hollen names Braley Vice Chair of DCCC

Bruce Braley (IA-01) was elected to Congress in 2006 with the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" program. In 2008 he helped manage the DCCC's Red to Blue efforts. For the next election cycle, he's been promoted again:

The DCCC today named the second of its three Vice Chairs - Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) will serve as Vice Chair for candidate services, responsible for the DCCC's offensive efforts including recruitment, money, and training.  

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said, "The DCCC will stay aggressive this cycle and continue to challenge Republicans who are out of step with their districts.  As a former chair and former member of the Red to Blue program, Bruce Braley knows first hand what it takes to be a successful candidate; his battle tested leadership will be a real asset to our candidates facing tough elections."

Congressman Bruce Braley brings his experience as chair of the DCCC's successful and effective 2008 Red to Blue Program and as a former member of the Red to Blue Program.

Vice Chair Bruce Braley said, "I'm looking forward to continuing my work at the DCCC in this new leadership role.  It's critical for us to continue assisting our candidates with the money, messaging and mobilization they will need to get elected in the 2010 election cycle.  I will work hard to help our candidates win their races."

Congressman Bruce Braley will serve as Vice Chair for candidate services.  The DCCC's candidate services include recruiting, money, and training.  A Vice Chair focusing on Member participation will be named at a later date.

Last month, Van Hollen named Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida the DCCC Vice Chair for incumbent retention. Given her refusal to endorse three Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents in south Florida, it was appropriate for Van Hollen to remove her from a leadership role in the Red to Blue program.

The third vice chair "will seek to increase House member participation in DCCC efforts," which presumably means getting more safe Democratic incumbents to pay their DCCC dues.

So Braley's niche will be finding and capitalizing on opportunities to pick up Republican-held seats. 2010 is likely to be a more challenging environment for Democratic candidates than the past two cycles, but it's good to know the DCCC is planning to remain on offense as well. We have a chance to achieve a political realignment, given the Democratic advantages with certain demographic groups in recent elections. Building on our success in 2006 and 2008 will require the DCCC to do more than protect our own vulnerable incumbents.

Good luck to Representative Braley in his new role. He'll be quite busy the next couple of years, with a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a Populist Caucus to lead.

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