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Conservative ratings suggest Rust Belt GOP growing more moderate
Muriel Kane
Published: Sunday March 29, 2009


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The American Conservative Union recently released its Congressional ratings for 2008 -- and the figures suggest the possibility of a significant division between hardcore conservatives in the Republican Party and those who might be more open to voting with the Democrats, particularly on economic issues.

The bills which the ACU used to compile its ratings reflect a cross-section of hardcore conservative issues, including taxes and the financial crisis, energy and climate change, unions and employment, and "culture war" topics such as abortion and gun ownership.

The ACU itself is best known as the sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference, which became a center of controversy last month following Rush Limbaugh's use of it as a platform to rally the GOP base and present himself as the voice of the Republican Party.

The Republicans in Congress have recently been under tight party discipline, pursuing a strategy of solid opposition to President Barack Obama's initiatives. However, in 2008, their votes were not nearly as monolithic as they have been since last January.

According to the ACU's scoring, very few Republicans got marks of less than 80% -- and very few Democrats got more than 15%. However, there are some interesting variations on a state-by-state basis.

The polarization may have been greatest in California, where scores of 100% for Republicans and 0% for Democrats have long been commonplace. In other places, however -- particularly the Rust Belt states of the Northeast and Midwest -- those kinds of extreme differences are far less apparent and may even be declining.

In New York, for example, a number of Republican members of Congress appear to have grown more moderate -- either that or the ACU's standards have become more extreme. For example, Rep. Peter King came in at only 50% in 2008, down from 68% the previous year and a lifetime record of 75%. Rep. John McHugh was at 40%, compared with a lifetime figure of 72%.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan are other states where a number of Republican members of Congress drew ACU scores between the 40's and the 70's. These figures are in many cases 10, 15, or even 30 points lower than their lifetime ACU records.

Most of these Republicans remain clearly conservative according to their own standards -- but the ACU figures suggest that Rust Belt conservatism may have the potential of striking a different path from Limbaugh conservatism.


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