Following the announcement that Senator John Edwards (D-NC) was picked to be Senator John Kerry's vice-presidential running mate, conservative media echoed Republican talking points on Edwards's record, parroting their label of Edwards as the "fourth most liberal member of the Senate" -- in spite of the fact that this rating is based on only 40 Senate votes from one session of Congress and is not representative of Edwards's more moderate record in the Senate.
Under the headline "Edwards' Record, However, Reveals Liberal Truth," a research brief, circulated by the Republican National Committee (RNC) on the heels of Kerry's announcement, noted that Edwards was the "Fourth Most Liberal Senator In 2003," misrepresenting Edwards's voting record by ignoring key information from National Journal's vote ratings based on Edwards's five years in the Senate. Edwards's 2003 National Journal vote rating -- which gave him a liberal rating of 94.5 percent -- was based on only 40 votes from one session of Congress (due to his presidential campaign, Edwards missed 22 of the 62 Senate votes National Journal examined) and is not representative of his voting record in the Senate over the past five years, during which he has cast more than 1,000 votes. Edwards's average liberal rating for the five years he has served in the Senate (1999-2003) is 75.7 percent -- 20 points lower than his 2003 rating, which Republicans are touting. According to National Journal, in 2002, Edwards received a 63 percent rating; in 2001, he received a 68.2 percent rating; in 2000, he received an 80.8 percent rating; and in 1999, he received a 72.2 percent rating.
Furthermore, according to a January 31, 2003, National Journal profile (NationalJournal.com subscription required) of "The Presidential Wanna-bes," "Among the other presidential contenders, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has been in the moderate-to-conservative range of Senate Democrats during his four years in the chamber." And in 2002, Edwards made National Journal's list of "Senate Centrists" (NationalJournal.com subscription required).
Nonetheless, RNC chair Ed Gillespie repeated the "fourth most liberal" charge against Edwards on the July 6 edition of CNN's Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics: "John Edwards was not far behind. He was the fourth most liberal senator in the United States Senate."
The Chattanooga Times Free Press quoted Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) making similar comments:
There is no ideological balance, I believe, in the choice of John Edwards. When you have John Kerry, who's the most liberal person in the United States Senate, and then you pick somebody who is equally liberal, there's no ideological balance," Sen. Frist said. "I think he (Edwards) is the fourth-most liberal person, to the left of Sen. (Edward) Kennedy and to the left of Sen. (Hillary) Clinton.
The fact that this anti-Edwards Republican talking point is based on selective and misleading information did not deter conservative pundits from repeating the charge. On the July 6 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, radio host Rush Limbaugh stated, "Edwards is the fourth-highest ranked liberal in the Senate. Kerry is the first. So you've got the first and fourth biggest liberals in the country now on the Democrat ticket."
On FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes on the same day, co-host Sean Hannity said, "Kerry is the number one liberal in the Senate. Edwards is number four." Hannity made the same assertion on his July 6 radio show, The Sean Hannity Show, stating, "You're talking about the fourth most liberal senator in Washington. Fourth. I mean, he even beat out Kennedy and Hillary! Do you understand? Kerry's number one, Edwards is number four! I mean this is unbelievable stuff." Also on July 6, FOX News chief political correspondent Carl Cameron repeated the GOP talking point in his campaign report during FOX News Channel's On The Record with Greta Van Susteren: "He has the fourth most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate to Kerry's number one," Cameron stated.
On July 7, Washington Times senior White House correspondent Bill Sammon and radio talk show host (and National Review Online contributor) Michael Graham correctly noted that Edwards's National Journal ranking as the fourth most liberal senator was for 2003; but both Sammon and Graham failed to note that this represented few votes and was not representative of his Senate career. In a Washington Times news article, Sammon reported, "The nonpartisan National Journal magazine ranks Mr. Edwards as the fourth-most-liberal member of the Senate, with a composite liberal voting score of 94.5 percent for 2003." Graham, in a July 7 National Review commentary, wrote, "Last year, the National Journal ranked Kerry and Edwards the first and fourth (respectively) most liberal members of the U.S. Senate."