McCain a Bush clone? These numbers dispute that | Philadelphia Inquirer | 09/19/2008 Does John McCain represent a third Bush term? The Obama campaign claims the two are almost indistinguishable. It was the mantra during the Democratic convention, and it is the theme of new ads Barack Obama is running. The ads claim that McCain is "no maverick when he votes with Bush 90 percent of the time." This week Obama has begun a constant refrain that there is "not a dime worth of difference" between Bush's and McCain's views. It is a consistent theme of Democratic pundits on talk shows. Is this the same McCain who drove Republicans nuts on campaign finance, the environment, taxes, torture, immigration and more? Where has McCain not crossed swords with his own party? As it's being used, the 90 percent figure, from Congressional Quarterly, is nonsensical. As Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman explained, "The vast majority of those votes are procedural, and virtually every member of Congress votes with his or her leadership on procedural motions." Obama might want to be a little careful with these attacks, as the same measure has him voting with Democrats 97 percent of the time. Fortunately, a number of organizations on the left and right provide useful evaluations on how congressmen and senators vote each year. These conservative and liberal groups pick the votes they care about most and figure out how often lawmakers match up with their positions. Well-known organizations that rank congressional voting include the American Conservative Union on the right, Americans for Democratic Action on the left, and the nonpartisan National Journal in the middle. The League of Conservation Voters also ranks politicians from an environmentalist position. These groups' rankings from 2001 to 2007 paint fairly similar pictures, putting McCain to the left of most Republican senators and to the right of most Democratic senators - though usually much closer to the average Republican. The American Conservative Union finds that the average Republican senator voted conservatively 85 percent of the time, and that the average Democrat voted conservatively 13 percent of the time. McCain voted conservatively 74 percent of the time. Although it's at the opposite end of the political spectrum, Americans for Democratic Action essentially agreed. It found that the average Republican senator voted liberally just over 12 percent of the time, and the average Democrat voted liberally 89 percent of the time. McCain voted liberally 24 percent of the time - twice as frequently as the average Republican. McCain missed too many votes campaigning in 2007 to be included in the National Journal ranking for that year, but it found that he voted conservatively 59.4 percent of the time from 2001 to 2006. According to the League of Conservation Voters, John McCain is the ultimate centrist. While the average Republican supported liberal environmentalist positions 13 percent of the time, and the average Democrat supported them 76 percent of the time, McCain's 44 percent put him in the middle. Another way to look at these numbers is to see how many of the 99 other senators voted more conservatively than McCain. In 2006, these four groups ranked McCain as the 47th, 46th, 44th and 51st most conservative member of the Senate, respectively. Surely, McCain is not nearly as liberal as the typical Democratic senator, but rankings from the left, middle and right find he is more liberal than the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate. What issues put McCain well to the left of the average Senate Republican? The American Conservative Union lists a number of specific votes on which he differed from most other Republicans, including: Taxes. He opposed reducing capital-gains tax rates, eliminating the inheritance tax and lowering income-tax rates. Environment. He opposed drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, supported compliance with the Kyoto global-warming treaty, supported requiring businesses to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, favored stricter mercury-emission rules for power plants, and supported stricter fuel-efficiency standards. Other regulations. McCain consistently supported stricter campaign-finance regulations and voted to mandate that handguns be sold only with locks. A number of these votes were closely contested. Some of McCain's votes led to a 50-50 deadlock in the Senate, requiring Vice President Cheney to break the tie. In contrast to the very liberal ratings given to Obama, the interest groups find that there are about as many senators to McCain's right as there are to his left. This might not endear him to many conservatives or liberals. But it is a real distortion to claim he is a Bush clone.