For the fifth time in the past few weeks, Republican Matt Doheny's congressional campaign has accused his opponent, Rep. Bill Owens, of being a liar.
This time, it's on the moderate bona fides of Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. The crux of the matter: Former Vice President Al Gore and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will raise money for Mr. Owens tomorrow.
“We can judge a man by the company he keeps,” Mr. Doheny said in a news release. “Bill Owens has campaigned several times with Paul Tonko, the House's most liberal member. Kirsten Gillibrand, the Senate's most liberal member, and President Obama have thrown fundraisers for him. Now Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore, pushing a progressive agenda, are working toward his re-election. With friends like these, it's clear Bill Owens is no centrist.”
Is Mr. Owens a moderate? He says so. Plenty of people in the north country say so. Vote rankings, too, have said so. National publications often come out with tabulations tied to ideology or party. The most recent National Journal ranking, which takes into consideration votes in 2011, has Mr. Owens with a score of 60-40 liberal/conservative. That means his voting record was more liberal than 60 percent of members of Congress, and more conservative than 40 percent.
I'll let you decide whether being within 10 percent of the center makes one a centrist.
And according to the Washington Post, Mr. Owens votes with his own party 72 percent of the time. That puts him near the bottom of party loyalty.
In past years, Mr. Owens had a higher conservative score and a lower liberal score, which has to do with the fact that Democrats lost control of the House and Republicans took it over. Republicans — like Democrats before them — put up ideologically charged pieces of legislation, stuff that Democrats never would have taken up for consideration (they put up their own ideologically charged pieces of legislation).
The Doheny campaign will, of course, point out that on the 30 most consequential votes, Mr. Owens sided with fellow members of his party 26 times. But a few times, those most consequential votes won approval across party lines: Short-term budget and spending deals, cutting House expenses, censuring Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-New York City.
Mr. Owens burnishes his moderate cred in a few ways. There's the rhetorical; he's not a flamethrower. And then there are his votes, too. For example, he voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt. He has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. He believes that the federal government should build the Keystone XL pipeline, to the chagrin of some north country environmental advocates.
But the Doheny campaign will just as quickly point to Obamacare, which Mr. Owens voted to approve, and the balanced budget amendment, which he voted against.
At the end of the day, how much will it matter that Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Gore are raising money for Mr. Owens?
Let's ask one north country political watcher.
"Here in the north country, people look at the race specifically here, when they're voting for Congress, they vote for who their representative is going to be. Specifically, here, it's going to be myself versus my opponent. They're going to look at our ideas, our record, and where do we need to go as a north country."
That was Mr. Doheny, in response to my question about whether Republican Mitt Romney's misfortunes on the national ticket might drag him down.