So says National Journal, which rated 96 key votes in the US Senate in 2010, in its annual listings announced this morning for both the Senate and the House.  NJ once ranked a junior Senator from Illinois as the most liberal member of the upper chamber in 2007, but he still managed to win the Presidency running as a centrist.  There’s reason to be suspicious of this outcome as well:

The politician who once best exemplified the idea of a “maverick” independent has shifted so far to the right that he is now tied for the title of the Senate’s most conservative member, according to National Journal‘s 2010 vote ratings.

According to a comprehensive examination of 96 Senate votes taken in 2010, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., along with seven of his colleagues, voted most often on the conservative side. His 89.7 composite conservative score ties him with stalwarts like Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and gives him a more conservative score than Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

McCain’s shift is emblematic of the Republican Party’s shift rightward and of the profound changes that NJ’s latest Vote Ratings reveal in Congress. A detailed analysis, including an interactive chart that will allow readers to examine and manipulate the data, will be available tomorrow.

That analysis of a shift rightward led by McCain might be worthwhile — if we knew what votes NJ used in its scoring, and which it ignored.  The problem here, as it was in the 2007 rankings, is the selection of votes for scoring by NJ.  While vote selection by advocacy groups for scoring usually is rather obvious — right-to-life groups score on bills that impact abortion, for instance — a media outlet, even one as respected as NJ, has to select votes that they believe are representative of ideological bent.  A sample of 96 votes out of 299 might be good enough, but it depends on which votes one counts.

The Poole Reports use a better measure.  Instead of handpicking specific votes, Dr. Keith Poole and his team use all of the votes in a session (not a year) and throw out unanimous and nearly-unanimous votes, such as on resolutions and office-naming legislation.  The report calculates all votes with significant dissent and then derives averages of how often each member voted with their own party.  That gives a much better representation of “maverickiness” and polarity within each chamber and caucus.  In the 110th Congress, the Poole report showed Russ Feingold occupying his regular spot as the most liberal Senator, with Obama coming in at 16th.

Poole has the report up for the 111th Congress.  In descending order, the most conservative Senators were:

  • Tom Coburn
  • Jim DeMint
  • John Kyl
  • John Barrasso
  • Jim Inhofe

Is anyone surprised by this?  John McCain, by the way, ranked 26th on this list, far back from Lindsey Graham, who came in at #14.  Jeff Sessions finished at #8.  McCain’s middle-of-the-pack performance still showed more conservative bent than fifteen other Republicans, including Lamar Alexander, Thad Cochran, Chuck Grassley, and Lisa Murkowski.  Finishing last were Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and in last place Olympia Snowe, which will come up in her primary fight next year.

Who were the 111th’s most liberal Senators?  In descending order, ignoring the brief assignment of temporary Robert Byrd replacement Carte Goodwin:

  • Al Franken
  • Russ Feingold
  • Paul Kirk (Massachusetts replacement for Ted Kennedy until Brown’s election)
  • Roland Burris
  • Bernie Sanders

None of these should surprise anyone, either, except perhaps Feingold’s dethroning by Franken.