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Vulnerable Incumbents Were Most Likely to Stray From Party Line This Congress Vulnerable Incumbents Were Most Likely to Stray From Party Line This C...

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Vulnerable Incumbents Were Most Likely to Stray From Party Line This Congress

Fewer than 100 members of Congress split from their parties even 10 percent of the time. Surprise, surprise: Many of them are in swing seats.

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Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., right, was one of the members of Congress most likely to vote against his own party in the past two years, along with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Jim Matheson and Mike McIntyre weren't faking it.

Even though the two Blue Dog Democratic representatives are retiring this year and don't have to face voters again in their ultra-conservative House districts, they still voted against their party more often than almost any House member over the last two years, with a bevy of endangered Democrats and Republicans joining them atop that list.

 

Matheson has taken 202 votes against his party so far in the current Congress, more than any other member for a rate above 40 percent. Rep. John Barrow, a fellow Blue Dog Democrat from Georgia, comes in second after voting against a majority of Democrats 170 times since the beginning of 2013, while McIntyre comes in third at 158, according to roll call vote data from OpenCongress.org.

They lead the small slice of Congress—59 members of the House and 40 members of the Senate—who have voted against most of their party colleagues in at least one of every 10 votes since the beginning of 2013.

House Votes Against Party (Top 25)
(Source: OpenCongress.org)

Barrow, the last white Democrat in Congress from the Deep South, has already been on the receiving end of a National Republican Congressional Committee TV ad in which an Augusta woman looks into the camera and says, "John Barrow votes with Barack Obama on every issue that's important to us here in Georgia." That could resonate in a district that gave Mitt Romney 55 percent of its votes even as it reelected Barrow in 2012. But Barrow showed that year how he can use his voting record to fight back against such attacks. In one 2012 TV ad, a narrator says, "John Barrow voted against President Obama's health care law" and goes on to say that "Barrow has voted with the Republican leader in Congress 54 percent of the time."

 

Democrats Ron Barber (136) and Collin Peterson (133) and Republican Chris Gibson (113) are the other incumbents facing tough general elections among this term's top-10 House party-buckers. Republicans Justin Amash (115) and Walter Jones (124), also in the top 10, drew strong primary challenges this year partly because of their libertarian-inspired tendencies to vote against the House GOP line.

Other endangered members dot the top of the list. Nick Rahall and Scott Peters are among the most endangered Democratic representatives of 2014 and the Democrats most likely to go against their party, while Rep. Michael Grimm of New York split from his party nearly 70 times and had one of the lowest party unity scores among House Republicans.

They are all among the small slice of Congress that split from their party more than 10 percent of the time in the past two years. Still, those incumbents will remain vulnerable on individual votes. Moving to the Senate, consider Sen. Mark Pryor as an example. He may have split from his party nearly one-quarter of the time, but he was still "the deciding vote for Obamacare," as the conservative group Crossroads GPS put it in a TV ad this summer.

Pryor has voted against the majority of Senate Democrats 35 times (22 percent) this Congress, the most of any Democrat running for reelection, followed by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., at 27. Two other red-state Democrats running for reelection, Mark Begich and Mary Landrieu, split from their party 20 times. But while House Democrats dominate the top of their chamber's list of party-buckers, Senate Republicans were more likely to split from the pack.

 

Senate Votes Against Party (Top 25)
(Source: OpenCongress.org)

Maine Republican Susan Collins has split from the GOP 60 times in 2013 and 2014, tops in either party. The next three on the list aren't up for reelection this year, but they will be worth watching in 2016. Republican Lisa Murkowski (52 votes against the majority of Republicans) lost the Alaska Republican primary in 2010 but won reelection as a write-in candidate, while Illinois Republican Mark Kirk (44) and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin (43) each won in 2010 by narrow margins in states that lean against their party.

Looking back to 2014, there's a notable name on the other end of the Senate's party unity scale. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is running for a second term after winning his first by just 312 votes in 2008. But Franken has only voted against his party twice out of 161 votes in 2013 and 2014, a 99 percent record that beats Elizabeth Warren's.

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