The American Conservative Union has given Chambliss a 92 percent lifetime rating, while Isakson checks in at 87.5 percent. Chambliss has a lifetime 83 percent from the fiscally minded Club For Growth, while Isakson has a 78 percent. On both of those key measuring sticks for the Right, the two senators scored lower last year than their lifetime stats — suggesting a concern that they are slipping.
The Republican Party has moved to the right during their times in Congress, and the Senate has become more populated with younger, more conservative tea party adherents in recent years. So far this year, Texas Republican Ted Cruz has personified the take-no-prisoners approach.
But the mold does not fit all newer senators. Witness Florida’s Marco Rubio, who won his seat by driving Charlie Crist out of the Republican Party, becoming the lead dealmaker on immigration reform; and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, who used to go “RINO” hunting (Republican in Name Only) as head of the Club For Growth, striking a deal on gun background checks.
The tea party got those two elected, but they also represent swing states. Georgia could soon become one, too, as growing ranks of Yankee transplants and minorities give Democrats hope for the future.
Isakson and Chambliss have much different political calculations to make as the Big Three issues move forward. Chambliss has decided not to seek re-election next year, while Isakson has insisted he will run again in 2016 — though many Georgia Republicans are expecting (and in some cases hoping) he will follow Chambliss into retirement.
So far, their “betrayal” of the Republican base has been mostly talk. It’s Chambliss talking about higher taxes with Warner, or Isakson talking other Republicans into dinner with the president, or both of them voting to start talking on the floor of the Senate about new gun laws.
The talk has put them in the spotlight and made them the subject of intense internal and external lobbying. Such is the life of a swing vote.