Sean Trende at RealClearPolitics pointed me to a recent article that touches on research of mine.

John Tanner (D-TN) is retiring from the 8th congressional district in 2010. He’s best known as one of the founders of the moderate/conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House. Running to succeed him is Roy Herron, a Tennessee State Senator who was a former minister.

Josh Kraushaar, a writer at, writes that Herron is to the left of Tanner, which would be a disadvantage in the fairly conservative district. He points to Herron’s authorship of a book called “How can a Christian Be in Politics?” which he interprets as a progressive call-to-arms for the faithful.

But what about their voting records? Tanner is definitely a conservative Democrat; most recently, he voted against the House leadership’s health care bill that passed by a mere five votes. Herron, on the other hand voted, recently voted in favor of legislation that would allow concealed weapons in restaurants serving alcohol (over the veto of the governor).

In my research on state legislative ideology (papers here), I am able to put state legislators and members of Congress on the same scale. In this case, Kraushaar and the Politico are wrong. Tanner scores at –0.38, considerably more conservative than the Democratic average of –0.81 from the 103rd-111th Congresses. But Herron scores at -0.26, or slightly more conservative than the incumbent Tanner.

While Herron would be a conservative Democratic in Congress if elected, he’s a moderate Democratic in Tennessee, where Democrats are quite conservative (eg, more so than their counterparts in Kansas or Missouri).

Update: More evidence that I’m right from The Hill. A review by Publisher’s Weekly made references to “liberal causes” that Herron supports. That review was republished on Herron’s website, minus that phrase. Talk about knowing your electorate!