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Are Bachmann, Kline, and Paulsen 'Too' Conservative for Their Congressional Districts?

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Difference between Kline's conservative vote ranking and his district's Partisan Voting Index ranking is the 2nd largest among all House Republicans; Bachmann 14th largest, Paulsen 27th

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's recent addition this week of 6th CD DFL candidate Tarryl Clark to its 'Red-to-Blue list' highlights even more clearly to the nation what has been known to Minnesotans for quite some time: Democrats really, really want to defeat Michele Bachmann this November.

But while Bachmann is being targeted partially because Democrats believe she can be beat by their well-financed candidate, the Congresswoman's seat is being pursued with such gusto by Democrats across Minnesota and the nation in no small part because of her outspoken, very conservative political ideology.

Despite the passion with which Democrats aim to unseat Bachmann, D.C. analysts call Bachmann the favorite to win a third term this November.

First, because Bachmann survived back-to-back victories during the Democratic tsunami years of 2006 and 2008, she is considered a favorite to win again during an election cycle in which most analysts believe there will be a Republican pullback, at least nationally.

'Survived' may indeed be the operative word.

For Representative Bachmann was reelected with the narrowest victory margin of any Republican incumbent in 2008, and, at 3.0 points, Bachmann also had the 5th narrowest margin of victory of the 178 GOPers elected into office that November.

Secondly, the Congresswoman's campaign fundraising prowess is unmatched and has shattered records in the Gopher State. Minnesota Democrats may be cowering in anticipation of what Bachmann's Q2 2010 numbers will look like next month - numbers that will include her high profile fundraiser with Sarah Palin in April.

But it is the third reason frequently given by those who prognosticate success for Bachmann in 2010 that is perhaps the least persuasive: that Bachmann will win because Minnesota's 6th Congressional District is the most conservative and Republican-leaning district in the Gopher State.

It is true, of course, that CD6 has the largest Republican tilt in Minnesota. The Cook Political Report Partisan Voting Index (PVI) for the 111th Congress gives the 6th CD a 7-point Republican edge.

(The PVI value in MN-06 means that in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, the district performed an average of seven points more Republican than the nation did as a whole. The next closest district in Minnesota was DFLer Collin Peterson's 7th CD, at +5 Republican).

But what is absent in this shorthand explanation for Bachmann's favorable reelection odds is any comparative measurement between the extent of the ideological and partisan tilt of her district and the extent of the ideological and partisan tilt of Bachmann herself.

Comparing ideological and partisan measures is a tricky business - the two variables are not synonymous, though they are highly correlated.

The reason they should not be equated with one another is that, for example, a district with a low PVI tilt towards the GOP could theoretically still be a very conservative district, if that district is composed of a significant number of conservative independents and Democrats who sometimes vote Democratic in presidential elections.

But ideology and partisanship are not apples and oranges either, and what can be the basis for comparison are the rankings of members of Congress on both of these dimensions - relative to one another.

Smart Politics therefore conducted an analysis of these two variables - the ideological tilt of U.S. Representative voting records as measured by National Journal's 2009 composite rankings and the Partisan Voting Index of each Representative's congressional district, with an eye on how Bachmann's rankings for each compare to her other 175+ Republican colleagues in the U.S. House.

The analysis found that the difference between Bachmann's ideological ranking and her district's partisan ranking was among the Top 15 largest among GOPers in the U.S. House.

The Republican tilt for Minnesota's 6th Congressional District of +7 points makes it only the 142nd most Republican district in the country. Representative Bachmann, meanwhile, tallied the 28th most conservative score in National Journal's 2009 vote rankings, or a district partisan vote/Representative ideology ranking differential of +114.

In short: Bachmann is more conservative than 84 percent of her colleagues, but her district tilts Republican more than only 20 percent of those of her fellow House GOPers.

It is this theme - that Bachmann is too conservative for her district that the Clark campaign will hope to hammer home throughout the summer and autumn.

But there is another Republican from Minnesota who has notched an even bigger gap between his personal composite conservative ranking and his district's PVI: John Kline.

Representative Kline scored the second largest differential among all Republican members in the U.S. House between these two rankings.

The Republican tilt for Kline's 2nd CD of +4 points makes it only the 197th most Republican district in the country, with Kline receiving a composite ranking of the 32nd most conservative Representative in the U.S. House, for a district partisan vote/Representative ideology ranking differential of +165.

Kline therefore had a voting record in 2009 that was more conservative than 82 percent of his fellow Republicans, but represents a district that tilts more Republican than just 17 percent of GOP districts across the country.

Only Joseph Cao, the freshman Republican from the extremely Democratic 2nd District of Louisiana scores a larger difference. (Although Cao had the fourth least conservative ranking among House Republicans in 2009, his district has a +25-point Democratic tilt, making it the 402nd least Republican district in the country on the PVI index).

While no one has ever mistaken Congressman Kline for a liberal, or even a moderate, he does not endure even a fraction of the criticism from the left as Bachmann for what is essentially an equally conservative voting record, even though Kline represents a more Democratic district than the more outspoken and media-friendly Congresswoman from Stillwater.

Not far behind Bachmann was Erik Paulsen from the state's 3rd Congressional District.

Paulsen scored the 144th most conservative voting record in the House in 2009, while his district's PVI ranking (even - no GOP or Democratic tilt) was only the 237th most Republican in the country, for a district partisan vote/Representative ideology ranking differential of +93, or the 27th highest in the GOP caucus.

Why Minnesota's U.S. Representatives are conspicuously represented at the top of this list is a bit of a mystery. Only California had more Representatives scoring in the Top 30 (with five), though the Golden State has 19 Republicans in its U.S. House delegation.

Perhaps there is a new breed of Republicans rising to power in the Upper Midwest: Wisconsin's GOP star Paul Ryan (#5) and Iowa's Tom Latham (#11) and Steve King (#19) all cracked the Top 20 as well.

Congressional District Partisan Vote / Representative Ideology Ranking Differential (Top 50 GOPers)

Rank
Name
District
Ideology rank
PVI rank
Difference
1
Jospeh Cao
LA-02
175
402
+227
2
John Kline
MN-02
32
197
+165
3
Don Manzullo
IL-16
62
214
+152
4
David Dreier
CA-26
66
203
+137
5
Paul Ryan
WI-01
89
218
+129
6
Peter Roskam
IL-06
118
243
+125
7
Randy Forbes
VA-04
66
191
+125
8
Pete Sessions
TX-32
12
134
+122
9
Michael Castle
DE-AL
183
303
+120
9
Mark Kirk
IL-10
174
294
+120
11
Tom Latham
IA-04
122
241
+119
12
John Shadegg
AZ-03
1
119
+118
13
Jim Gerlach
PA-06
159
274
+115
14
Michele Bachmann
MN-06
28
142
+114
15
Mike Rogers
MI-08
111
224
+113
16
Pat Tiberi
OH-12
132
244
+112
17
Elton Gallegly
CA-24
87
198
+111
18
George Radanovich
CA-19
16
126
+110
19
Steve King
IA-05
9
118
+109
20
Bill Posey
FL-15
62
170
+108
21
Todd Akin
MO-02
11
117
+106
22
Brian Bilbray
CA-50
101
204
+103
22
Bill Young
FL-10
128
231
+103
24
Tom McClintock
CA-04
9
108
+99
25
Mike Pence
IN-06
8
106
+98
26
Joe Pitts
PA-16
38
132
+94
27
Erik Paulsen
MN-03
144
237
+93
28
Bob Latta
OH-05
27
120
+93
29
John Mica
FL-07
58
149
+91
29
Thaddeus McCotter
MI-11
147
238
+91
29
Charlie Dent
PA-15
166
257
+91
32
Scott Garrett
NJ-05
55
145
+90
32
Dave Reichert
WA-08
178
268
+90
34
Frank LoBiondo
NJ-02
159
245
+86
35
Eric Cantor
VA-07
37
122
+85
36
Frank Wolf
VA-10
131
215
+84
37
Pete Olson
TX-22
1
84
+83
38
Ed Royce
CA-40
52
133
+81
39
Trent Franks
AZ-02
1
80
+79
39
Dean Heller
NV-02
99
178
+79
41
Dan Lungren
CA-03
98
175
+77
42
Tom Rooney
FL-16
114
188
+74
43
Buck McKeon
CA-25
94
166
+72
44
John Campbell
CA-48
105
173
+68
45
Kenny Marchant
TX-24
26
93
+67
46
Wally Herger
CA-02
31
97
+66
46
Ken Calvert
CA-44
96
162
+66
46
Mary Bono Mack
CA-45
135
201
+66
49
Duncan Hunter
CA-52
48
114
+66
50
Dana Rohrabacher
CA-46
110
174
+64
50
Fred Upton
MI-06
172
236
+64
50
Sue Myrick
NC-09
34
98
+64
Ideology ranking from National Journal's 2009 U.S. House composite conservative ratings. Partisan Voting Index from Cook Political Report. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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