The Most Divided Congress Ever, At Least Until Next Year

Congress is more polarized now than ever before, and the 2014 midterms will do nothing but exacerbate the divide.

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Feb. 6, 2014, midnight

The Blue Dog Demo­crats boas­ted some ex­cit­ing news last month — the ad­di­tion of four new mem­bers to re­plen­ish their de­pleted ranks. But the re­cruit­ment of Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, Ron Barber, Cheri Bus­tos, and Nick Ra­hall was as much a sign of ex­ist­en­tial crisis as it was reas­on for cel­eb­ra­tion.

While all ranked among the Demo­crats’ more mod­er­ate mem­bers in Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s 2013 vote rat­ings, none was a lo­gic­al fit to join a group of fisc­ally con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats who want to rein in gov­ern­ment spend­ing. Ear­mark-lov­er Ra­hall was first elec­ted in 1976 and nev­er showed any in­terest in join­ing the Blue Dogs be­fore fa­cing a ser­i­ous reelec­tion chal­lenge in West Vir­gin­ia this year. Ari­zona’s Sinema, Illinois’s Bus­tos, and Ari­zona’s Barber are all fresh­men who haven’t had much time to prove their com­mit­ment to fisc­al con­ser­vat­ism. (They, too, face tough con­tests in the fall, however.)

Sure, the Blue Dogs could try to set high­er stand­ards for mem­ber­ship, so that the caucus isn’t sign­ing up only at-risk Demo­crats in search of a cent­rist cre­den­tial. But that would mean the end for one of the last bas­tions of cent­rism and mod­er­a­tion among House Demo­crats. Already, the caucus’s num­bers are dread­ful — down to 19 today from 54 four years ago — be­cause, plain truth, so few Demo­crat­ic fisc­al hawks are left.

As the Demo­crat­ic Party shifts left­ward without much res­ist­ance, Re­pub­lic­ans are fight­ing a war for the soul of their party. House Speak­er John Boehner faces con­stant re­volt on his right flank from a grow­ing num­ber of tea-party-af­fil­i­ated mem­bers who be­lieve com­prom­ise is a dirty word. Out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups, such as the Club for Growth and the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, are en­for­cing ideo­lo­gic­al pur­ity among mem­bers as well as primary can­did­ates. Six of the 12 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors up for reelec­tion in 2014 are fa­cing primary chal­lenges from their right, even though sev­er­al rank among the most con­ser­vat­ive, ac­cord­ing to the vote rat­ings.

Wel­come to today’s Con­gress, which in 2013 was more po­lar­ized than any Con­gress since Na­tion­al Journ­al began cal­cu­lat­ing its rat­ings in 1982.

For the fourth straight year, no Sen­ate Demo­crat was more con­ser­vat­ive than a Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an — and no Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an was more lib­er­al than a Sen­ate Demo­crat. In the House, only two Demo­crats were more con­ser­vat­ive than a Re­pub­lic­an — and only two Re­pub­lic­ans were more lib­er­al than a Demo­crat. The ideo­lo­gic­al over­lap between the parties in the House was less than in any pre­vi­ous in­dex.

The ideo­lo­gic­al sort­ing of the House and Sen­ate by party, which has been go­ing on for more than three dec­ades, is vir­tu­ally com­plete. Con­trast the lack of ideo­lo­gic­al over­lap with 1982, when 58 sen­at­ors and 344 House mem­bers had vot­ing re­cords that put them between the most lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­an and the most con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat; or 1994, when 34 sen­at­ors and 252 House mem­bers oc­cu­pied the same ter­rit­ory.

“The last couple of Con­gresses have been among the most po­lar­ized in his­tory. This is just a con­tinu­ation of that. There’s noth­ing that will break this [trend],” said Gary Jac­ob­son, a Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (San Diego) polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist, who spe­cial­izes in con­gres­sion­al polit­ics. “Voters have been vot­ing along party lines at the highest rate in 50 years; they ex­pressed that vote at the con­gres­sion­al and pres­id­en­tial levels. It’s hard for mem­bers to win in dis­tricts where their party is not favored.”

Bey­ond the po­lar­iz­a­tion, the vote rat­ings high­light oth­er com­pel­ling find­ings. Among Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates, Texas’s Ted Cruz proved he could vote more con­ser­vat­ively than Ken­tucky’s Rand Paul, 2013’s tea-party fa­vor­ite. Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts is not quite as pro­gress­ive as she ad­vert­ised, at least com­pared with her Demo­crat­ic col­leagues. While most Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors have moved to the middle as they face com­pet­it­ive elec­tions, Al Franken has re­mained a stal­wart lib­er­al. Mean­while, John Mc­Cain and Or­rin Hatch, who had moved to the right in pre­par­a­tion for primary races, once again oc­cupy the mod­er­ate wing of the Re­pub­lic­an Party. Con­trary to con­ven­tion­al wis­dom, most mem­bers whose dis­tricts be­came safer dur­ing the re­dis­trict­ing pro­cess didn’t be­come any more ideo­lo­gic­al.

Here are the 12 most im­port­ant takeaways from Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s 2013 rat­ings:

1. It’s hard to be­lieve, but Con­gress is likely to be even more po­lar­ized next year.

Three of the five most mod­er­ate Demo­crats in the House — Jim Math­eson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Car­o­lina, and Bill Owens of New York — have already an­nounced their re­tire­ments this year. John Bar­row, the most mod­er­ate Demo­crat, faces an­oth­er dif­fi­cult reelec­tion cam­paign in deeply con­ser­vat­ive rur­al Geor­gia. In the Sen­ate, it’s plaus­ible that as many as six of the 11 most mod­er­ate Demo­crats could be gone next year; some are re­tir­ing, some are fa­cing tough reelec­tion cam­paigns.

It’s not much bet­ter for the re­main­ing GOP cent­rists. Half of the 10 House Re­pub­lic­ans who have an­nounced their re­tire­ment — Frank Wolf in Vir­gin­ia, Jim Ger­lach in Pennsylvania, Jon Run­yan in New Jer­sey, Spen­cer Bachus in Alabama, and Tom Lath­am in Iowa — rank in the top fifth of mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans.

2. Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates in Con­gress con­tin­ue to show­case their con­ser­vat­ism.

Every pro­spect­ive Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate ranked as re­li­ably con­ser­vat­ive, al­though none more so than Cruz in his first year on the job. He ranked as the fourth-most-con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or, with a com­pos­ite score of 95.0, fully liv­ing up to his repu­ta­tion. Cruz out­dis­tanced Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida (tied for 17th) and Paul (19th) in that re­spect, but both of them ranked in the top half of con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors. (Paul’s 82.0 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score was a slight drop-off from his 2012 rat­ing of 90.8, when he ranked sixth in the Sen­ate.)

Like­wise, House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an ranked as one of the most con­ser­vat­ive rep­res­ent­at­ives, with an 81.2 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score. That put him in the up­per-third of House Re­pub­lic­ans, rank­ing 71st. But Ry­an opened him­self up to con­ser­vat­ive cri­ti­cism late last year in ne­go­ti­at­ing a bi­par­tis­an budget deal that aver­ted a gov­ern­ment shut­down. In the Sen­ate, 36 Re­pub­lic­ans voted against the com­prom­ise, in­clud­ing Cruz, Ru­bio, and Paul.

3. Red-state Demo­crats are break­ing with their party, but their Obama­care votes still lurk.

Demo­crats fa­cing tough reelec­tion cam­paigns in red states this year can point to evid­ence that they’re more mod­er­ate than Re­pub­lic­ans give them cred­it for. Of the 11 Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors who rank as the most mod­er­ate, nearly half are fa­cing the polit­ic­al fights of their ca­reers. Lead­ing the pack is Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas, who is the second-least-lib­er­al sen­at­or, with a 46.2 com­pos­ite score. Kay Hagan ranks as the fourth-least-lib­er­al. Also at the top of the list are Alaska’s Mark Be­gich (54.7 lib­er­al), Vir­gin­ia’s Mark Warner (56.3 lib­er­al), and Louisi­ana’s Mary Landrieu (58.3 lib­er­al).

It’s worth not­ing that every Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or, even West Vir­gin­ia’s Joe Manchin, is more lib­er­al than the most mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or, Maine’s Susan Collins. That’s both a res­ult of con­gres­sion­al po­lar­iz­a­tion and a sign of the Demo­crat­ic Party’s left­ward drift. And all of the Demo­crats sup­por­ted Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law, their most polit­ic­ally con­sequen­tial vote in re­cent years.

4. The tea party is run­ning out of con­ser­vat­ives to tar­get.

Of the six Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors fa­cing primary chal­lenges in 2014, only three are sig­ni­fic­antly more mod­er­ate than the av­er­age Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or. Head­ing the pack are South Car­o­lina’s Lind­sey Gra­ham and Ten­ness­ee’s Lamar Al­ex­an­der, who both rank as the fifth-most-mod­er­ate, with 64.5 con­ser­vat­ive scores. Both face nom­in­al GOP op­pos­i­tion but are favored to win their primar­ies. Thad Co­chran in Mis­sis­sippi, viewed as the most vul­ner­able of the six, ranks as the 12th-most-mod­er­ate, with a 67.5 score.

The 2013 vote rat­ings could in­su­late Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell from cri­ti­cism that he’s too es­tab­lish­ment for a Re­pub­lic­an primary. Mc­Con­nell’s 77.7 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score ranks him in the middle of the GOP pack, stand­ing at 25th-most-con­ser­vat­ive. He is fa­cing a two-front war in Ken­tucky — from his right in busi­ness­man Matt Bev­in, and in the gen­er­al elec­tion from Demo­crat Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes.

The out­liers: John Cornyn in Texas and Pat Roberts in Kan­sas, both of whom rank among the most con­ser­vat­ive in the Sen­ate (Roberts is eighth, Cornyn 14th). Cornyn is fa­cing a long-shot primary bid from Rep. Steve Stock­man, whose idio­syn­crat­ic con­ser­vat­ism ranks him only in the middle of the pack in the House, while Roberts faces a chal­lenge from Milton Wolf, a tea-party act­iv­ist who hap­pens to be a second cous­in of Obama.

5. Con­ser­vat­ives will have reas­on to be steamed (again) at John Mc­Cain and Or­rin Hatch.

As he faced a com­pet­it­ive Sen­ate primary in 2010, Mc­Cain shed his mav­er­ick repu­ta­tion, be­com­ing one of the most con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors in NJ‘s vote rat­ing from 2009 to 2011. But the mod­er­ate Mc­Cain is back in full force this year, rank­ing as the third-least-con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an, be­hind only Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. His 60.2 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score is sig­ni­fic­antly down from his 2010 score of 90.

Like­wise, Hatch faced scru­tiny among Utah Re­pub­lic­ans for be­ing too mod­er­ate — and he quickly changed course as he faced reelec­tion in 2012. That year, Hatch ranked as one of the most con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors with an 87.0 score. But in 2013, he re­ver­ted back to the more mod­er­ate wing of his party, rank­ing 29th with a 70.2 score. These res­ults are likely to em­bolden out­side groups on the right, which have ar­gued that cer­tain Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t really as con­ser­vat­ive as their vot­ing re­cords in­dic­ate.

6. Al Franken wears his lib­er­al brand proudly, even when fa­cing reelec­tion.

All of the Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors fa­cing a com­pet­it­ive gen­er­al elec­tion in 2014 po­si­tioned them­selves on the more mod­er­ate end of the caucus — ex­cept for Min­nesota’s Franken, who ranks as one of the most lib­er­al sen­at­ors (he’s tied for fifth), even though he’s fa­cing a deep-pock­eted Re­pub­lic­an busi­ness­man, Mike Mc­Fad­den, as a likely op­pon­ent. The next closest to the left in this group? Mark Ud­all in Col­or­ado, whose com­pos­ite lib­er­al score ranks him 33rd.

This isn’t new for Franken. He has ranked as one of the most lib­er­al sen­at­ors since he was first elec­ted in 2008, com­ing in at third in 2012, and he was an out­spoken crit­ic of con­ser­vat­ives be­fore serving. Fa­cing his first reelec­tion cam­paign, Franken isn’t chan­ging his tune at all. While oth­er Demo­crats run­ning in 2014 have cri­tiqued Obama’s health care law, he’s kept quiet. In a vote sponsored by GOP Sen. John Bar­rasso of Wyom­ing to pro­tect the pri­vacy of gun own­ers, Franken was the only tar­geted Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or to take the lib­er­al side. Over­all, he has kept a low pro­file in of­fice, fo­cus­ing more on Min­nesota-spe­cif­ic is­sues than na­tion­al policy de­bates.

7. Liz Cheney would nev­er have had a shot against Mi­chael En­zi.

It’s no sur­prise that Liz Cheney, in her ill-fated Sen­ate bid in Wyom­ing, had trouble get­ting trac­tion by ac­cus­ing En­zi of be­ing in­suf­fi­ciently con­ser­vat­ive. He ranks as the second-most-con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or, with a whop­ping 95.8 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score — con­sist­ent with pre­vi­ous vote rat­ings es­tab­lish­ing his cre­den­tials. Only James Risch in Idaho out­ranked En­zi in that meas­ure in 2013.

Be­fore she dropped out of the race in Janu­ary, Cheney struggled to dif­fer­en­ti­ate her­self from En­zi. She cast her can­did­acy as part of a new gen­er­a­tion of Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship and cri­ti­cized the in­cum­bent for sup­port­ing le­gis­la­tion back­ing an In­ter­net sales tax. But she didn’t have much else to go on. Un­like the primary chal­lenges to the oth­er six Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors, Cheney’s can­did­acy was less ideo­lo­gic­al and more about styl­ist­ic dif­fer­ences. De­pend­ing on style alone is a hard way to mount an up­set of a long­time sen­at­or.

8. Eliza­beth War­ren: Not as pro­gress­ive as ad­vert­ised?

One of the more sur­pris­ing find­ings from the 2013 rat­ings is that lib­er­al icon Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts placed her­self in the middle in her first year in of­fice, rank­ing as the 31st-most-lib­er­al sen­at­or (73.2 score). Most of the sen­at­or’s de­fec­tions were on eco­nom­ic is­sues: She voted to re­peal Obama­care’s med­ic­al-device tax and “to re­peal or re­duce the es­tate tax” if done in a fisc­ally re­spons­ible way. War­ren even irked con­sumer ad­voc­ates in op­pos­ing a meas­ure that would have al­lowed states to man­date la­beling of foods that con­tain ge­net­ic­ally mod­i­fied in­gredi­ents.

On so­cial is­sues, however, she lived up to form, ty­ing with 26 oth­er Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors as the most lib­er­al.

9. The most lib­er­al Demo­crats in the Sen­ate are among the most hawk­ish on Ir­an sanc­tions.

Ir­an sanc­tions nev­er came up for a Sen­ate vote in 2013, but among the loudest crit­ics of Obama on the is­sue are the most lib­er­al mem­bers of the Demo­crat­ic caucus. They’re join­ing most Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans in back­ing le­gis­la­tion, co­sponsored by Mark Kirk of Illinois and New Jer­sey’s Robert Men­en­dez, that would im­pose new sanc­tions on Ir­an if it does not live up to the in­ter­im dip­lo­mat­ic agree­ment on nuc­le­ar weapons.

New York’s Chuck Schu­mer (the most lib­er­al sen­at­or), Mary­land’s Ben Cardin (ranked fifth), Con­necti­c­ut’s Richard Blu­menth­al (tied for fifth), New York’s Kirsten Gil­librand (also tied for fifth), and Men­en­dez (12th) have all broken with the pres­id­ent on this sens­it­ive for­eign policy is­sue. (All of them rep­res­ent states with sig­ni­fic­ant Jew­ish vot­ing con­stitu­en­cies.) If the Sen­ate takes a sanc­tions vote in 2014, ex­pect some of the mem­bers’ lib­er­al scores to take a hit.

10. Very few of the most con­ser­vat­ive House Re­pub­lic­ans face any ser­i­ous Demo­crat­ic op­pos­i­tion.

Even as the House has shif­ted right­ward, only a couple of the most con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers rep­res­ent com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts where their vot­ing re­cord could open them to scru­tiny by a ser­i­ous Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent. In­deed, just one of the 30 most con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers has to worry about a tough gen­er­al elec­tion. That dis­tinc­tion goes to Tim Wal­berg, an ar­dent so­cial and fisc­al con­ser­vat­ive whose south­ern Michigan dis­trict gave Obama 51 per­cent of its vote in 2012. Wal­berg, who won 53 per­cent of the vote last year, faces a cred­ible chal­lenge from Demo­crat­ic former state Rep. Pam Byrnes.

The oth­er con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an who stands out is Steve South­er­land, first elec­ted in the tea-party wave of 2010. He ranks as the 42nd-most-con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an des­pite rep­res­ent­ing a swing Tal­l­a­hassee, Fla., dis­trict that in­cludes many gov­ern­ment work­ers, along with more-con­ser­vat­ive pre­cincts, and that gave Obama 47 per­cent of its vote in 2012. South­er­land is fa­cing one of the Demo­crats’ strongest re­cruits this cycle, Gwen Gra­ham, the daugh­ter of pop­u­lar former Sen. Bob Gra­ham.

11. The oddest couple in the Sen­ate: Wis­con­sin’s Ron John­son and Tammy Bald­win.

Even though he rep­res­ents a battle­ground state and faces the like­li­hood of a tough reelec­tion in 2016, Ron John­son non­ethe­less ranks as the ninth-most-con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or, stand­ing along­side mem­bers from heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an states such as Idaho and Wyom­ing. His Wis­con­sin col­league, Demo­crat Tammy Bald­win, who hails from the lib­er­al bas­tion of Madis­on, is tied as the fifth-most-lib­er­al sen­at­or.

Not only are their re­cords at odds, the two barely talk. In a New York Times in­ter­view, John­son can­didly ac­know­ledged, “We’re not best buds.” He later ad­ded, “I would ar­gue that the folks on the oth­er side of the aisle, their ideo­logy is des­troy­ing the coun­try.” Bald­win and John­son are one of only 16 Sen­ate pairs left who hail from dif­fer­ent parties.

12. Most mem­bers who be­nefited from re­dis­trict­ing didn’t change their vot­ing pat­terns.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the role of ger­ry­man­der­ing in in­creas­ing po­lar­iz­a­tion in Con­gress. But an ana­lys­is of the 2013 vote rat­ings finds that most mem­bers whose dis­tricts be­came less com­pet­it­ive didn’t vote more ideo­lo­gic­ally than they had be­fore the post-2010 re­dis­trict­ing. On the flip side, re­dis­trict­ing forced a num­ber of pre­vi­ously re­li­able con­ser­vat­ives and lib­er­als in­to born-again mod­er­ates. The catch: Many mod­er­ates re­tired or lost reelec­tion, and they were suc­ceeded by more-ideo­lo­gic­al col­leagues from the op­pos­ing party — a trend fueled by par­tis­an ger­ry­man­der­ing.

Of the 10 mem­bers who gained the most from re­dis­trict­ing, four ac­tu­ally pos­ted a more-mod­er­ate com­pos­ite score than they did be­fore the lines were re­drawn in 2011. The biggest win­ner, Blake Far­enthold, whose Texas dis­trict swung from giv­ing Obama 53 per­cent of the vote in 2008 to giv­ing Mitt Rom­ney 61 per­cent of the vote in 2012, sat squarely in the middle of the pack among House Re­pub­lic­ans as the 143rd-most-con­ser­vat­ive.

Re­pub­lic­an Lou Bar­letta, whose Demo­crat­ic-friendly north­east Pennsylvania dis­trict be­came a GOP strong­hold, ac­tu­ally voted less con­ser­vat­ively in 2013 than he did be­fore the lines were re­drawn. Dave Reich­ert is no longer a top Demo­crat­ic tar­get, but he re­mained one of the most mod­er­ate House Re­pub­lic­ans (54.8 com­pos­ite) even after get­ting a safer seat in Wash­ing­ton state. Rep. Steve Chabot, whose Cin­cin­nati-area dis­trict trans­formed from a clas­sic battle­ground to safe GOP seat, ranked as the most con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an in the House in 2013. But he was already one of the lead­ing con­ser­vat­ives, with a 90 com­pos­ite score in 2011.

Con­versely, most of the biggest losers from re­dis­trict­ing changed their ideo­lo­gic­al tune as they ran in more com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts. Cali­for­nia’s Gary Miller, formerly a stal­wart GOP con­ser­vat­ive, saw his safe dis­trict trans­form in­to a His­pan­ic-ma­jor­ity seat where Demo­crats hold an edge. His com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score plummeted from 87.2 in 2011 to 65.2 in 2013. Re­pub­lic­an Mike Coff­man’s com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score plummeted from 83.0 in 2011 to 60.8 in 2013 after he won only 48 per­cent of the vote in a re­drawn Col­or­ado dis­trict. Geor­gia’s Bar­row was al­ways a mod­er­ate Demo­crat, but after be­ing re­drawn in­to a deeply con­ser­vat­ive dis­trict, he be­came the most con­ser­vat­ive House Demo­crat, rank­ing to the right of two Re­pub­lic­ans.Demo­crat John Gara­mendi’s lib­er­al score dropped 23 points from 2011 to 2013 after he ran in a more com­pet­it­ive dis­trict in Cali­for­nia.

The 2013 vote rat­ings re­cor­ded some not­able ex­cep­tions, though. The GOP’s Steve King, an im­mig­ra­tion hard-liner, saw his Iowa dis­trict be­come 5 points more com­pet­it­ive. But he re­mained a stal­wart con­ser­vat­ive, with an 83.0 con­ser­vat­ive score in 2013. And in New York, Demo­crat Louise Slaughter re­mained one of the most lib­er­al mem­bers (tied for 40th) even though her once-safe dis­trict is now mar­gin­ally com­pet­it­ive.

The Blue Dog Demo­crats boas­ted some ex­cit­ing news last month — the ad­di­tion of four new mem­bers to re­plen­ish their de­pleted ranks. But the re­cruit­ment of Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, Ron Barber, Cheri Bus­tos, and Nick Ra­hall was as much a sign of ex­ist­en­tial crisis as it was reas­on for cel­eb­ra­tion.

While all ranked among the Demo­crats’ more mod­er­ate mem­bers in Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s 2013 vote rat­ings, none was a lo­gic­al fit to join a group of fisc­ally con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crats who want to rein in gov­ern­ment spend­ing. Ear­mark-lov­er Ra­hall was first elec­ted in 1976 and nev­er showed any in­terest in join­ing the Blue Dogs be­fore fa­cing a ser­i­ous reelec­tion chal­lenge in West Vir­gin­ia this year. Ari­zona’s Sinema, Illinois’s Bus­tos, and Ari­zona’s Barber are all fresh­men who haven’t had much time to prove their com­mit­ment to fisc­al con­ser­vat­ism. (They, too, face tough con­tests in the fall, however.)

Sure, the Blue Dogs could try to set high­er stand­ards for mem­ber­ship, so that the caucus isn’t sign­ing up only at-risk Demo­crats in search of a cent­rist cre­den­tial. But that would mean the end for one of the last bas­tions of cent­rism and mod­er­a­tion among House Demo­crats. Already, the caucus’s num­bers are dread­ful — down to 19 today from 54 four years ago — be­cause, plain truth, so few Demo­crat­ic fisc­al hawks are left.

As the Demo­crat­ic Party shifts left­ward without much res­ist­ance, Re­pub­lic­ans are fight­ing a war for the soul of their party. House Speak­er John Boehner faces con­stant re­volt on his right flank from a grow­ing num­ber of tea-party-af­fil­i­ated mem­bers who be­lieve com­prom­ise is a dirty word. Out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups, such as the Club for Growth and the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, are en­for­cing ideo­lo­gic­al pur­ity among mem­bers as well as primary can­did­ates. Six of the 12 Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors up for reelec­tion in 2014 are fa­cing primary chal­lenges from their right, even though sev­er­al rank among the most con­ser­vat­ive, ac­cord­ing to the vote rat­ings.

Wel­come to today’s Con­gress, which in 2013 was more po­lar­ized than any Con­gress since Na­tion­al Journ­al began cal­cu­lat­ing its rat­ings in 1982.

For the fourth straight year, no Sen­ate Demo­crat was more con­ser­vat­ive than a Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an — and no Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an was more lib­er­al than a Sen­ate Demo­crat. In the House, only two Demo­crats were more con­ser­vat­ive than a Re­pub­lic­an — and only two Re­pub­lic­ans were more lib­er­al than a Demo­crat. The ideo­lo­gic­al over­lap between the parties in the House was less than in any pre­vi­ous in­dex.

The ideo­lo­gic­al sort­ing of the House and Sen­ate by party, which has been go­ing on for more than three dec­ades, is vir­tu­ally com­plete. Con­trast the lack of ideo­lo­gic­al over­lap with 1982, when 58 sen­at­ors and 344 House mem­bers had vot­ing re­cords that put them between the most lib­er­al Re­pub­lic­an and the most con­ser­vat­ive Demo­crat; or 1994, when 34 sen­at­ors and 252 House mem­bers oc­cu­pied the same ter­rit­ory.

“The last couple of Con­gresses have been among the most po­lar­ized in his­tory. This is just a con­tinu­ation of that. There’s noth­ing that will break this [trend],” said Gary Jac­ob­son, a Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (San Diego) polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist, who spe­cial­izes in con­gres­sion­al polit­ics. “Voters have been vot­ing along party lines at the highest rate in 50 years; they ex­pressed that vote at the con­gres­sion­al and pres­id­en­tial levels. It’s hard for mem­bers to win in dis­tricts where their party is not favored.”

Bey­ond the po­lar­iz­a­tion, the vote rat­ings high­light oth­er com­pel­ling find­ings. Among Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates, Texas’s Ted Cruz proved he could vote more con­ser­vat­ively than Ken­tucky’s Rand Paul, 2013’s tea-party fa­vor­ite. Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts is not quite as pro­gress­ive as she ad­vert­ised, at least com­pared with her Demo­crat­ic col­leagues. While most Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors have moved to the middle as they face com­pet­it­ive elec­tions, Al Franken has re­mained a stal­wart lib­er­al. Mean­while, John Mc­Cain and Or­rin Hatch, who had moved to the right in pre­par­a­tion for primary races, once again oc­cupy the mod­er­ate wing of the Re­pub­lic­an Party. Con­trary to con­ven­tion­al wis­dom, most mem­bers whose dis­tricts be­came safer dur­ing the re­dis­trict­ing pro­cess didn’t be­come any more ideo­lo­gic­al.

Here are the 12 most im­port­ant takeaways from Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s 2013 rat­ings:

1. It’s hard to be­lieve, but Con­gress is likely to be even more po­lar­ized next year.

Three of the five most mod­er­ate Demo­crats in the House — Jim Math­eson of Utah, Mike McIntyre of North Car­o­lina, and Bill Owens of New York — have already an­nounced their re­tire­ments this year. John Bar­row, the most mod­er­ate Demo­crat, faces an­oth­er dif­fi­cult reelec­tion cam­paign in deeply con­ser­vat­ive rur­al Geor­gia. In the Sen­ate, it’s plaus­ible that as many as six of the 11 most mod­er­ate Demo­crats could be gone next year; some are re­tir­ing, some are fa­cing tough reelec­tion cam­paigns.

It’s not much bet­ter for the re­main­ing GOP cent­rists. Half of the 10 House Re­pub­lic­ans who have an­nounced their re­tire­ment — Frank Wolf in Vir­gin­ia, Jim Ger­lach in Pennsylvania, Jon Run­yan in New Jer­sey, Spen­cer Bachus in Alabama, and Tom Lath­am in Iowa — rank in the top fifth of mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans.

2. Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ates in Con­gress con­tin­ue to show­case their con­ser­vat­ism.

Every pro­spect­ive Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate ranked as re­li­ably con­ser­vat­ive, al­though none more so than Cruz in his first year on the job. He ranked as the fourth-most-con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or, with a com­pos­ite score of 95.0, fully liv­ing up to his repu­ta­tion. Cruz out­dis­tanced Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida (tied for 17th) and Paul (19th) in that re­spect, but both of them ranked in the top half of con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors. (Paul’s 82.0 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score was a slight drop-off from his 2012 rat­ing of 90.8, when he ranked sixth in the Sen­ate.)

Like­wise, House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an ranked as one of the most con­ser­vat­ive rep­res­ent­at­ives, with an 81.2 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score. That put him in the up­per-third of House Re­pub­lic­ans, rank­ing 71st. But Ry­an opened him­self up to con­ser­vat­ive cri­ti­cism late last year in ne­go­ti­at­ing a bi­par­tis­an budget deal that aver­ted a gov­ern­ment shut­down. In the Sen­ate, 36 Re­pub­lic­ans voted against the com­prom­ise, in­clud­ing Cruz, Ru­bio, and Paul.

3. Red-state Demo­crats are break­ing with their party, but their Obama­care votes still lurk.

Demo­crats fa­cing tough reelec­tion cam­paigns in red states this year can point to evid­ence that they’re more mod­er­ate than Re­pub­lic­ans give them cred­it for. Of the 11 Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors who rank as the most mod­er­ate, nearly half are fa­cing the polit­ic­al fights of their ca­reers. Lead­ing the pack is Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas, who is the second-least-lib­er­al sen­at­or, with a 46.2 com­pos­ite score. Kay Hagan ranks as the fourth-least-lib­er­al. Also at the top of the list are Alaska’s Mark Be­gich (54.7 lib­er­al), Vir­gin­ia’s Mark Warner (56.3 lib­er­al), and Louisi­ana’s Mary Landrieu (58.3 lib­er­al).

It’s worth not­ing that every Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or, even West Vir­gin­ia’s Joe Manchin, is more lib­er­al than the most mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or, Maine’s Susan Collins. That’s both a res­ult of con­gres­sion­al po­lar­iz­a­tion and a sign of the Demo­crat­ic Party’s left­ward drift. And all of the Demo­crats sup­por­ted Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law, their most polit­ic­ally con­sequen­tial vote in re­cent years.

4. The tea party is run­ning out of con­ser­vat­ives to tar­get.

Of the six Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors fa­cing primary chal­lenges in 2014, only three are sig­ni­fic­antly more mod­er­ate than the av­er­age Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or. Head­ing the pack are South Car­o­lina’s Lind­sey Gra­ham and Ten­ness­ee’s Lamar Al­ex­an­der, who both rank as the fifth-most-mod­er­ate, with 64.5 con­ser­vat­ive scores. Both face nom­in­al GOP op­pos­i­tion but are favored to win their primar­ies. Thad Co­chran in Mis­sis­sippi, viewed as the most vul­ner­able of the six, ranks as the 12th-most-mod­er­ate, with a 67.5 score.

The 2013 vote rat­ings could in­su­late Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell from cri­ti­cism that he’s too es­tab­lish­ment for a Re­pub­lic­an primary. Mc­Con­nell’s 77.7 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score ranks him in the middle of the GOP pack, stand­ing at 25th-most-con­ser­vat­ive. He is fa­cing a two-front war in Ken­tucky — from his right in busi­ness­man Matt Bev­in, and in the gen­er­al elec­tion from Demo­crat Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes.

The out­liers: John Cornyn in Texas and Pat Roberts in Kan­sas, both of whom rank among the most con­ser­vat­ive in the Sen­ate (Roberts is eighth, Cornyn 14th). Cornyn is fa­cing a long-shot primary bid from Rep. Steve Stock­man, whose idio­syn­crat­ic con­ser­vat­ism ranks him only in the middle of the pack in the House, while Roberts faces a chal­lenge from Milton Wolf, a tea-party act­iv­ist who hap­pens to be a second cous­in of Obama.

5. Con­ser­vat­ives will have reas­on to be steamed (again) at John Mc­Cain and Or­rin Hatch.

As he faced a com­pet­it­ive Sen­ate primary in 2010, Mc­Cain shed his mav­er­ick repu­ta­tion, be­com­ing one of the most con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors in NJ‘s vote rat­ing from 2009 to 2011. But the mod­er­ate Mc­Cain is back in full force this year, rank­ing as the third-least-con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an, be­hind only Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. His 60.2 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score is sig­ni­fic­antly down from his 2010 score of 90.

Like­wise, Hatch faced scru­tiny among Utah Re­pub­lic­ans for be­ing too mod­er­ate — and he quickly changed course as he faced reelec­tion in 2012. That year, Hatch ranked as one of the most con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors with an 87.0 score. But in 2013, he re­ver­ted back to the more mod­er­ate wing of his party, rank­ing 29th with a 70.2 score. These res­ults are likely to em­bolden out­side groups on the right, which have ar­gued that cer­tain Re­pub­lic­ans aren’t really as con­ser­vat­ive as their vot­ing re­cords in­dic­ate.

6. Al Franken wears his lib­er­al brand proudly, even when fa­cing reelec­tion.

All of the Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors fa­cing a com­pet­it­ive gen­er­al elec­tion in 2014 po­si­tioned them­selves on the more mod­er­ate end of the caucus — ex­cept for Min­nesota’s Franken, who ranks as one of the most lib­er­al sen­at­ors (he’s tied for fifth), even though he’s fa­cing a deep-pock­eted Re­pub­lic­an busi­ness­man, Mike Mc­Fad­den, as a likely op­pon­ent. The next closest to the left in this group? Mark Ud­all in Col­or­ado, whose com­pos­ite lib­er­al score ranks him 33rd.

This isn’t new for Franken. He has ranked as one of the most lib­er­al sen­at­ors since he was first elec­ted in 2008, com­ing in at third in 2012, and he was an out­spoken crit­ic of con­ser­vat­ives be­fore serving. Fa­cing his first reelec­tion cam­paign, Franken isn’t chan­ging his tune at all. While oth­er Demo­crats run­ning in 2014 have cri­tiqued Obama’s health care law, he’s kept quiet. In a vote sponsored by GOP Sen. John Bar­rasso of Wyom­ing to pro­tect the pri­vacy of gun own­ers, Franken was the only tar­geted Demo­crat­ic sen­at­or to take the lib­er­al side. Over­all, he has kept a low pro­file in of­fice, fo­cus­ing more on Min­nesota-spe­cif­ic is­sues than na­tion­al policy de­bates.

7. Liz Cheney would nev­er have had a shot against Mi­chael En­zi.

It’s no sur­prise that Liz Cheney, in her ill-fated Sen­ate bid in Wyom­ing, had trouble get­ting trac­tion by ac­cus­ing En­zi of be­ing in­suf­fi­ciently con­ser­vat­ive. He ranks as the second-most-con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or, with a whop­ping 95.8 com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score — con­sist­ent with pre­vi­ous vote rat­ings es­tab­lish­ing his cre­den­tials. Only James Risch in Idaho out­ranked En­zi in that meas­ure in 2013.

Be­fore she dropped out of the race in Janu­ary, Cheney struggled to dif­fer­en­ti­ate her­self from En­zi. She cast her can­did­acy as part of a new gen­er­a­tion of Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship and cri­ti­cized the in­cum­bent for sup­port­ing le­gis­la­tion back­ing an In­ter­net sales tax. But she didn’t have much else to go on. Un­like the primary chal­lenges to the oth­er six Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors, Cheney’s can­did­acy was less ideo­lo­gic­al and more about styl­ist­ic dif­fer­ences. De­pend­ing on style alone is a hard way to mount an up­set of a long­time sen­at­or.

8. Eliza­beth War­ren: Not as pro­gress­ive as ad­vert­ised?

One of the more sur­pris­ing find­ings from the 2013 rat­ings is that lib­er­al icon Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts placed her­self in the middle in her first year in of­fice, rank­ing as the 31st-most-lib­er­al sen­at­or (73.2 score). Most of the sen­at­or’s de­fec­tions were on eco­nom­ic is­sues: She voted to re­peal Obama­care’s med­ic­al-device tax and “to re­peal or re­duce the es­tate tax” if done in a fisc­ally re­spons­ible way. War­ren even irked con­sumer ad­voc­ates in op­pos­ing a meas­ure that would have al­lowed states to man­date la­beling of foods that con­tain ge­net­ic­ally mod­i­fied in­gredi­ents.

On so­cial is­sues, however, she lived up to form, ty­ing with 26 oth­er Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors as the most lib­er­al.

9. The most lib­er­al Demo­crats in the Sen­ate are among the most hawk­ish on Ir­an sanc­tions.

Ir­an sanc­tions nev­er came up for a Sen­ate vote in 2013, but among the loudest crit­ics of Obama on the is­sue are the most lib­er­al mem­bers of the Demo­crat­ic caucus. They’re join­ing most Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans in back­ing le­gis­la­tion, co­sponsored by Mark Kirk of Illinois and New Jer­sey’s Robert Men­en­dez, that would im­pose new sanc­tions on Ir­an if it does not live up to the in­ter­im dip­lo­mat­ic agree­ment on nuc­le­ar weapons.

New York’s Chuck Schu­mer (the most lib­er­al sen­at­or), Mary­land’s Ben Cardin (ranked fifth), Con­necti­c­ut’s Richard Blu­menth­al (tied for fifth), New York’s Kirsten Gil­librand (also tied for fifth), and Men­en­dez (12th) have all broken with the pres­id­ent on this sens­it­ive for­eign policy is­sue. (All of them rep­res­ent states with sig­ni­fic­ant Jew­ish vot­ing con­stitu­en­cies.) If the Sen­ate takes a sanc­tions vote in 2014, ex­pect some of the mem­bers’ lib­er­al scores to take a hit.

10. Very few of the most con­ser­vat­ive House Re­pub­lic­ans face any ser­i­ous Demo­crat­ic op­pos­i­tion.

Even as the House has shif­ted right­ward, only a couple of the most con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers rep­res­ent com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts where their vot­ing re­cord could open them to scru­tiny by a ser­i­ous Demo­crat­ic op­pon­ent. In­deed, just one of the 30 most con­ser­vat­ive mem­bers has to worry about a tough gen­er­al elec­tion. That dis­tinc­tion goes to Tim Wal­berg, an ar­dent so­cial and fisc­al con­ser­vat­ive whose south­ern Michigan dis­trict gave Obama 51 per­cent of its vote in 2012. Wal­berg, who won 53 per­cent of the vote last year, faces a cred­ible chal­lenge from Demo­crat­ic former state Rep. Pam Byrnes.

The oth­er con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an who stands out is Steve South­er­land, first elec­ted in the tea-party wave of 2010. He ranks as the 42nd-most-con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an des­pite rep­res­ent­ing a swing Tal­l­a­hassee, Fla., dis­trict that in­cludes many gov­ern­ment work­ers, along with more-con­ser­vat­ive pre­cincts, and that gave Obama 47 per­cent of its vote in 2012. South­er­land is fa­cing one of the Demo­crats’ strongest re­cruits this cycle, Gwen Gra­ham, the daugh­ter of pop­u­lar former Sen. Bob Gra­ham.

11. The oddest couple in the Sen­ate: Wis­con­sin’s Ron John­son and Tammy Bald­win.

Even though he rep­res­ents a battle­ground state and faces the like­li­hood of a tough reelec­tion in 2016, Ron John­son non­ethe­less ranks as the ninth-most-con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­or, stand­ing along­side mem­bers from heav­ily Re­pub­lic­an states such as Idaho and Wyom­ing. His Wis­con­sin col­league, Demo­crat Tammy Bald­win, who hails from the lib­er­al bas­tion of Madis­on, is tied as the fifth-most-lib­er­al sen­at­or.

Not only are their re­cords at odds, the two barely talk. In a New York Times in­ter­view, John­son can­didly ac­know­ledged, “We’re not best buds.” He later ad­ded, “I would ar­gue that the folks on the oth­er side of the aisle, their ideo­logy is des­troy­ing the coun­try.” Bald­win and John­son are one of only 16 Sen­ate pairs left who hail from dif­fer­ent parties.

12. Most mem­bers who be­nefited from re­dis­trict­ing didn’t change their vot­ing pat­terns.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the role of ger­ry­man­der­ing in in­creas­ing po­lar­iz­a­tion in Con­gress. But an ana­lys­is of the 2013 vote rat­ings finds that most mem­bers whose dis­tricts be­came less com­pet­it­ive didn’t vote more ideo­lo­gic­ally than they had be­fore the post-2010 re­dis­trict­ing. On the flip side, re­dis­trict­ing forced a num­ber of pre­vi­ously re­li­able con­ser­vat­ives and lib­er­als in­to born-again mod­er­ates. The catch: Many mod­er­ates re­tired or lost reelec­tion, and they were suc­ceeded by more-ideo­lo­gic­al col­leagues from the op­pos­ing party — a trend fueled by par­tis­an ger­ry­man­der­ing.

Of the 10 mem­bers who gained the most from re­dis­trict­ing, four ac­tu­ally pos­ted a more-mod­er­ate com­pos­ite score than they did be­fore the lines were re­drawn in 2011. The biggest win­ner, Blake Far­enthold, whose Texas dis­trict swung from giv­ing Obama 53 per­cent of the vote in 2008 to giv­ing Mitt Rom­ney 61 per­cent of the vote in 2012, sat squarely in the middle of the pack among House Re­pub­lic­ans as the 143rd-most-con­ser­vat­ive.

Re­pub­lic­an Lou Bar­letta, whose Demo­crat­ic-friendly north­east Pennsylvania dis­trict be­came a GOP strong­hold, ac­tu­ally voted less con­ser­vat­ively in 2013 than he did be­fore the lines were re­drawn. Dave Reich­ert is no longer a top Demo­crat­ic tar­get, but he re­mained one of the most mod­er­ate House Re­pub­lic­ans (54.8 com­pos­ite) even after get­ting a safer seat in Wash­ing­ton state. Rep. Steve Chabot, whose Cin­cin­nati-area dis­trict trans­formed from a clas­sic battle­ground to safe GOP seat, ranked as the most con­ser­vat­ive Re­pub­lic­an in the House in 2013. But he was already one of the lead­ing con­ser­vat­ives, with a 90 com­pos­ite score in 2011.

Con­versely, most of the biggest losers from re­dis­trict­ing changed their ideo­lo­gic­al tune as they ran in more com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts. Cali­for­nia’s Gary Miller, formerly a stal­wart GOP con­ser­vat­ive, saw his safe dis­trict trans­form in­to a His­pan­ic-ma­jor­ity seat where Demo­crats hold an edge. His com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score plummeted from 87.2 in 2011 to 65.2 in 2013. Re­pub­lic­an Mike Coff­man’s com­pos­ite con­ser­vat­ive score plummeted from 83.0 in 2011 to 60.8 in 2013 after he won only 48 per­cent of the vote in a re­drawn Col­or­ado dis­trict. Geor­gia’s Bar­row was al­ways a mod­er­ate Demo­crat, but after be­ing re­drawn in­to a deeply con­ser­vat­ive dis­trict, he be­came the most con­ser­vat­ive House Demo­crat, rank­ing to the right of two Re­pub­lic­ans.Demo­crat John Gara­mendi’s lib­er­al score dropped 23 points from 2011 to 2013 after he ran in a more com­pet­it­ive dis­trict in Cali­for­nia.

The 2013 vote rat­ings re­cor­ded some not­able ex­cep­tions, though. The GOP’s Steve King, an im­mig­ra­tion hard-liner, saw his Iowa dis­trict be­come 5 points more com­pet­it­ive. But he re­mained a stal­wart con­ser­vat­ive, with an 83.0 con­ser­vat­ive score in 2013. And in New York, Demo­crat Louise Slaughter re­mained one of the most lib­er­al mem­bers (tied for 40th) even though her once-safe dis­trict is now mar­gin­ally com­pet­it­ive.


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