Partisanship and ideology are two different things. Some Democratic operatives have made an effort to identify Congressman Patrick Murphy who is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 US Senate race as a progressive. Others including the Democratic Progressive Caucus feel Murphy is too far to the right on the ideological spectrum.
The evidence that is offered below can be judged by our readers. It should be stated that many in the Democratic Party are more concerned about winning elections than ideology though as I have repeatedly pointed out most recently last week, the idea of running moderates statewide has been the default Florida Democratic playbook for fifteen years and has yielded disastrous results.
The problem with “moderate” candidates having been stated time and again on TFS, it is the prerogative of the party via the party’s primary voters to choose a nominee based on whatever considerations they find fit. A case could be made that if the FDP wanted more control of the process they could lobby to statutorily remove the requirements for primary elections and hold a nominating convention instead. Considering the party has not done that, the process remains relatively open even if leaders in the party have preferences as to who should be nominated in statewide primaries.
When judging Patrick Murphy’s ideology, we will defer to the interest groups and entities that score congressional votes and have reliably ascertained through the years a formula to determine where a member of Congress actually resides in terms of ideology. These groups scorecards are invaluable partly because the media driven “partisan unity” scores include procedural votes such as rules and motions to recommit which are almost universally partisan votes. The inclusion of these procedural votes have served to make moderate Republicans and Democrats appear more ideologically driven than they might otherwise appear to be.
Americans for Democratic Action (ADA):
This liberal group has been keeping Congressional voting scores since the early 1970’s and has been used by many on the left to determine ideology. Patrick Murphy last year was one of the least liberal Democrats in the House per ADA. Murphy earned a 50% rating, meaning he votes with the left-wing standard about half the time in the House. For comparison purposes that is slightly lower than the average ADA rating Allen Boyd earned through his 14-year service in the US House where he termed himself a “Blue Dog.” But it is also important to note that Murphy has NOT joined the Blue Dog Coalition whose numbers have been decimated by the 2010 and 2014 elections. Congresswoman Gwen Graham however has joined the Coalition.
League of Conservation Voters (LCV):
Murphy has thus far in 2015 voted with the majority of Republicans on key issues (excluding the Speaker’s vote which is a partisan exercise) on five of seven key votes. He voted against the majority of Democrats on three of these votes.
Why we don’t look at Congressional Quarterly’s Party Unity Scores
In the mid-late 1990’s, when I was obsessed with Congressional voting trends I used to go to the library and photo copy all of the roll call votes from Congressional Quarterly (CQ). I have whole binders sitting somewhere in my house (or my parents house) with Congressional votes from 1995 through 2000. What I found when I tried to create a “unity” rating for members was that CQ’s ratings were always different and gave members higher partisan scores because they included procedural votes like rules and motions to recommit that were essentially partisan exercises. Once I looked at actual “key” votes, party unity scores were almost universally lower across the board in both parties.
What does all this mean?
These ratings reflect that Patrick Murphy’s voting record is not progressive by the standard applied by three left-leaning groups who maintain a database of congressional votes and score them accordingly. Based on the Washington Post analysis he is as likely to side with the GOP on key issues in the current congress as with Democrats. Whether Florida’s Democrats see this as a negative or positive must ultimately be determined in a primary.