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Sen. Lamar Alexander often votes with Obama, study shows

12:06 PM, Jan 28, 2013   |    comments
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
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By Paul C. Barton | Tennessean Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - Sen. Lamar Alexander supported President Barack Obama's positions on Senate bills in 2012 more frequently than any other Republican senator from the South, an independent voting analysis shows.

A study by Congressional Quarterly shows that on bills on which Obama had a clearly stated position, Alexander voted with the president 62 percent of the time.

Only Republican senators from Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska and Indiana had higher "presidential support" scores.

Alexander's presidential support scores in recent years include 63 percent in 2011 and 52 percent in 2010. In both of those years, he voted with Obama more often than any other Republican senator from the South.

The study comes as grumbling continues among some Tennessee Republicans -- often expressed in blogs and other Internet postings -- that Alexander is too moderate.

The two-term senator is up for re-election in 2014.

"Senator Alexander's voting record may very well be a problem for him," said David Kanervo, political analyst at Austin Peay State University.

"As we have seen in other races, more conservative candidates have chosen to oppose longtime officeholders because some votes have been particularly offensive to conservatives. While Alexander is well-regarded in Tennessee, his age and voting record might stimulate opposition among tea partiers who think it is time for a change."

Several news organizations cited Alexander's moderation as the reason he stepped down as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference in 2011.

And many on the right have bristled at his support of Obama administration clean-air rules.

'Take ... in context'

But others doubt the Congressional Quarterly study will hurt him.

"One has to take all of these organization rankings in context. Sen. Alexander has an excellent record in the Senate (of) standing with the party," said Chris Devaney, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. "He has always shown an instinct to stand up for Tennesseans, and I think folks in the state recognize and appreciate that."

Mark Byrnes, political scientist at Middle Tennessee State University, said Alexander probably wouldn't welcome being tied too closely to Obama.

"It's unlikely that any Southern Republican would relish being tagged as supporting President Obama 62 percent of the time," he said. "But Senator Alexander is well-positioned to survive any blowback."

Tennessee political consultant Tom Ingram, a former chief of staff to Alexander, said the senator's conservative credentials were impeccable.

"I don't know anybody with a more conservative record or background."

Minority of roll calls

Because the Congressional Quarterly study focuses only on votes in which the president has a clearly defined position, it covers a minority of Senate roll calls.

In 2012, the Senate took 251 roll call votes but Congressional Quarterly found only 79 in which Obama had a clearly stated position. Forty were judicial nominations.

Alexander has a long-stated position that a president of either party should have his appointments barred only in extreme circumstances.

Southern Republican senators close behind in supporting Obama were Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, at 58 percent; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, at 57 percent; and fellow Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, at 56 percent.

'Party unity'

Congressional Quarterly also looks at "party unity," the percentage of votes in which a lawmaker agrees with the majority of his party members. Alexander's score was 83 percent, compared with Corker's 86 percent.

Neither was listed as among the top party-unity scores, and Alexander was listed among Republican senators who voted most often in opposition to their party.

But Alexander's office still points to it as a sign of solidGOP credentials.

"Sen. Alexander has a conservative voting record," said his spokesman, Jim Jeffries. "Alexander's 83 percent 'party unity' score is slightly higher than the average Republican senator's (80 percent) and slightly lower than Sen. Corker's (86 percent). When Alexander first ran for the Senate in 2002, he said, 'I have conservative principles and an independent attitude,' and he has always voted that way."

Corker comparison

Alexander, said Vanderbilt University political scientist Bruce Oppenheimer, is in much the same position as Corker was two years ago.

"There may be some (of) the more conservative or tea party faction within the Tennessee Republican party who believe Sen. Alexander is insufficiently conservative and cooperates with the Obama administration too frequently," Oppenheimer said. "But that faction has yet to produce a potential candidate with the experience, visibility, and political resources to be a serious challenger."

The Vanderbilt analyst added, "You don't beat somebody with nobody."

Contact Paul C. Barton at pbarton@gannett.com.

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