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The Most Powerful Women in America

No, not Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Valerie Jarrett, and Christina Romer. Instead, the most powerful women in America might be the club of four Republicans in the United States Senate: Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Snowe has voted with the Administration 91% of the time according to new Obama Support Score (OSS), the derivation of which I’ll explain in a moment. This is, by some margin, the highest score for any Senate Republican and also higher than that of a handful of Democrats. Collins is second on the list, with an OSS of 72%, and Murkowski is fourth among Republicans at 70%. While Hutchison is further down the list, she is clearly angling to be a thought-leader in the GOP and is likely to be a wild card on certain issues, having voted with the administration, for instance, on SCHIP and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Now, then: what exactly is going on here? This is a revision of the “fili-busters” metric that we created before, measuring how often Republican Senators have sided with the administration. The difference is that we are now considering all 32 roll call votes to date and weighting them according to a relatively simple scale of importance:

5: Up-and-down votes on final passage bills; Confirmations of cabinet officials
3: Cloture votes
2: Amendments; Confirmation of non-cabinet officials
1: All other procedural votes, such as motions to table amendments

The OSS is the percentage of the time the Senator supported the Administration’s position after applying these weights. (This is not necessarily the same thing as a liberal-conservative score, since it is possible to wind up to the Administration’s left, although this is rarely an issue for Republican Senators).

The surprise in the group is Murkowski, who while never especially conservative, seems be positioning herself as even more of a moderate just at the very moment she has to be concerned about a primary challenge from Sarah Palin. Granted, the issues that have come before the Senate so far — like SCHIP and Ledebtter — happen to include a disproprtionate number of so-called “women’s issues”, but perhaps this is precisely the point. The GOP clicked with women, at least up to a point, in 2004, and had a very good year. They didn’t in 2006 or 2008, and got crushed. The boys in the Senate since seem to have forgotten about that — but perhaps the women haven’t.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.