When U.S. Rep. Connie Mack entered the U.S. Senate race in Florida, he immediately became a frontrunner.
But he still has to win the Republican primary, and some conservatives have criticized Mack for not being conservative enough.
When asked about that, Mack responded, "I am one of the most conservative members of Congress, and I have a very conservative voting record," according to the Republican blog the Shark Tank on Feb. 4, 2012.
In the primary, Mack will face George LeMieux, whom then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed to serve a vacancy in the U.S. Senate in 2009, and businessman Mike McCalister. The winner will face Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
Evaluating whether someone is the "most’’ of anything can be tricky. We wanted to see what led Mack to make that declaration and how he fared in various rankings of the 435 members of Congress.
Mack campaign spokesman David James sent a list of organizations that had given Mack conservative ratings in recent years. We will summarize many of the ratings that Mack’s campaign sent us, as well as some we found on our own. Mack was first elected to Congress in 2004, so we could have examined his scorecards for multiple years, but we think that looking at his grades for more recent years from multiple groups provides a good snapshot, since he didn’t specify any time frame in his claim. We’ll also look particularly at some of the votes Mack has made that depart from conservative benchmarks.
Groups that gave Mack a 100 percent rating
Mack received his most conservative ratings from the Christian Coalition of America, Family Research Council and National Right to Life Committee. These ratings were based on 10 or fewer votes, many about abortion and other social issues.
Groups the gave Mack less than 100 percent but in the 90 percent range
• American Conservative Union (ACU): Mack got a 96 percent from the group that looks at a variety of issues -- in 2010 that included abortion, health care, earmarks and the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul bill. He disagreed with the ACU on one of two dozen votes: he voted against lifting a moratorium on offshore drilling a few months after the BP spill.
• Club for Growth: The club ranked Mack 52nd out of 435 with a score of 95 percent. This includes 19 House roll call votes on taxes, regulations and other issues, as well as other actions such as signing the club’s pledge to repeal the federal health care law. Mack lost points for his 2010 votes on oil drilling and supporting the national program for flood insurance.
• Americans for Prosperity: The group examines votes based on economic issues. Mack received 94 percent. Rep. Mack voted with AFP’s position on all votes in the first session of the 112th Congress, except for the Cut, Cap and Balance package that AFP supported during the debt ceiling debate last summer. Mack said Cut, Cap and Balance still allowed for an increase in the debt ceiling, which he opposed. Mack also signed AFP’s No Climate Tax pledge.
One group gave Mack an A with no numerical rating: National Rifle Association gave Mack an A in 2010 -- a spokeswoman told us the group didn’t give a numerical grade.
Analyses from news organizations
• The Washington Post did an analysis of members of Congress in 2011 that it dubbed "the apocalypse caucus." The Post noted that this group included lawmakers from both parties "who calculate that the best way to fix government is to act as if you wouldn’t mind if it burned down." The Post pointed to six budget votes between April and October 2011, and Mack was part of the small group that voted "no" every time.
• The National Journal ranks members of Congress based on key votes about economic, social and foreign policy issues and then gives them a composite score and ranking. For 2010, Mack did not make the Journal’s Top 10 most conservative. Mack was ranked the 67th most conservative and received a conservative composite score of 82.7 percent. The Journal noted that in 2010, economic issues dominated, and there were few votes on social issues or foreign issues.
Votes taken that have angered some conservatives
Mack has taken heat from some conservatives for certain votes he took since he was first elected to Congress in 2004.
The Shark Tank blog wrote in a Feb. 8 post that he drew backlash from pro-lifers after voting in favor of four embryonic stem cell bills between 2005 and 2007 -- including one to over-ride President George W. Bush’s initial veto.
"What can be more pro-life than to help people like my grandfather who suffered from illnesses that stem cell research could help," Mack told the Shark Tank.
Conservatives have also taken note of Mack's comments comparing Arizona’s immigration law to Nazi Germany in 2010.
Mack was a vocal critic of the Arizona law but now tries to emphasize his opposition to amnesty and calls for tough border control. In late 2011, as he launched his candidacy, he said, "I thought the Arizona law went too far. And in fact the legislature in Arizona agreed and made changes. Now they didn't go far enough for me, but they recognized they were on shaky ground. I think what we need to do is be tough on border security, that we need to have the E-Verify as a national system, that we need to be tough on illegal immigrants but at the same time not destroy the freedoms of some Americans that may look different than you and me."
Mack’s Republican opponents have also attacked him for voting for billions of dollars in earmarks -- though members of both parties have pursued earmarks. The Miami Herald reported that many of those earmarks were for defense or popular with constituents such as a local university. But he also voted for projects outside of Florida including an aquarium in Connecticut and a city pool near the California district of his wife, Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack.
Mack said "I have a very conservative voting record." The general way Mack worded his claim makes it easy for him: There are times when he didn’t take a hard-line conservative position, such as his stances on stem cell research and the Arizona immigration law. But Mack’s claim here was about his overall record and how he compared to the rest of Congress, and for that he has gotten high marks from several conservative organizations. We rate this claim Mostly True.