New York voters seeking a progressive alternative to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand may have found one: Gillibrand herself.
According to ratings compiled by ProgressivePunch.org (Progressive Punch founder Joshua Grossman is a contributor to FiveThirtyEight.com), Gillibrand has thus far compiled a progressive score of 98.45% in the 111th Congress, and 94.12% on critical votes. Although there has been little to distinguish the first 30 or so Democratic senators, most of whom have voted in lockstep with the President’s agenda, those scores rank Gillibrand 15th among the 59 Democratic Senators; her ratings are essentially identical to those of reliably liberal Senators like Tom Harkin and Pat Leahy, as well as those of her colleague in the Senate, Chuck Schumer. Gillibrand has also been among the most liberal of the 11 freshman Democratic Senators:
Progressive Scores for Freshman Democrats
Merkley OR 98.69%
Burris IL 98.65%
Kaufman DE 98.65%
Gillibrand NY 98.45%
T. Udall NM 96.73%
Shaheen NH 95.33%
M. Udall CO 92.16%
Warner VA 90.20%
Begich AK 89.47%
Bennet CO 88.89%
Hagan NC 88.08%
It’s not as though Gillibrand, who rated as a relatively conservative Democrat while representing New York’s 20th Congressional District in the House of Representatives, has done much to conceal her newly more liberal politics; she flipped to become a supporter of gay marriage almost immediately upon taking office, for instance, and she has become a regular contributor on progressive websites like Daily Kos and The Huffington Post.
Still, this might help to explain why the White House has been not-so-subtly trying to dissuade other Democrats — first Steve Israel and then Carolyn Maloney, both U.S. Representatives with solidly liberal voting records — from issuing a primary challenge to Gillibrand.
Voting this way, of course, is probably an asset to Gillibrand in New York, where Obama retains a 73 percent approval rating, including getting the thumbs-up from about half of the state’s small but hearty base of Republicans. It’s a reminder, indeed, that with very few exceptions, electoral considerations bear far more firmly on a Congressperson’s voting record than any sort of deep-seated personal convictions.