The campaign for the Republican Party nomination for the United States Senate from Kansas between Todd Tiahrt of Goddard and Jerry Moran of Hays is making national news. The issue is over who is the most conservative. A new article in U.S. News and Word Report states: “Both Tiahrt and Moran have portrayed themselves as fiscal conservatives, favoring lower taxes and less spending by the federal government.”
Merriam-Webster defines internecine as “of, relating to, or involving conflict within a group,” which might describe any contested political primary election. But this one is turning in to something resembling the other definition given: “marked by slaughter: deadly; especially: mutually destructive.”
Perhaps the reason why this campaign is turning negative is that on many issues, there just isn’t much difference between the two candidates and their voting records. Looking at vote rankings from several sources can help us see this.
One respected source of vote ratings is National Journal. Some Tiahrt supporters are using a chart of National Journal vote ratings on Facebook, showing their approval of Tiahrt’s performance in these ratings.
The chart shows Tiahrt with a more conservative vote rating in years past, but converging to nearly identical values last year. The chart shows Moran moving in the more conservative direction, while Tiahrt, after three years of less-conservative ratings, moving to a more conservative rating.
National Journal produces three ratings for each legislator, based on votes on economic, social, and foreign policy issues. The number I plotted in the chart is the average of the three values for each year. In its own method of producing composite scores for 2009, National Journal gives Tiahrt a score of 85.3, and Moran gets 84.3.
In terms of where they rank in order, Tiahrt is the 54th most conservative voter, and Moran is the 64th.
For 2009, the average composite score for Republican members of the U.S. House was 79.4, ranging from 57.8 to 94. So while Tiahrt and Moran rank as more conservative than average, neither are anywhere near the top, in terms of conservative voting according to National Journal.
Other organizations produce vote ratings too, such as the American Conservative Union. In these ratings, Tiahrt and Moan have the same, or nearly same score in all years except 2007, when Tiahrt had a more conservative rating. For the period shown, Tiahrt’s average score is 92.5, and Moran’s is 91.3.
From Americans for Tax Reform, we find a mixed picture. For the period shown, the average rating for Tiahrt is 94.6, and for Moran, 90.3.
Do these relatively small differences in vote ratings amount to a true distinction between the candidates? While Tiahrt generally earns the more conservative rating, the differences are so small that voters will want to make sure they take into account other factors when they decide who to support.