Apr. 30, 2001: I normally leave the contact sport of politics to those better able to explain its intricacies

but I couldn’t help notice that Max Cleland, Georgia’s senior senator, is beginning to raise his heretofore-nonexistent profile. For that, you can blame our junior senator, Zell Miller.

Mr. Miller hit Washington like a hurricane and is the talk of the nation. The political pros can harumph about his dalliance with the Bush Administration but his popularity is high here in Georgia and will likely remain so. With Zell Miller, what you see is what you get. But while everybody is talking about Senator Miller, nobody seems to be aware of our stealth senator, Mr. Cleland. This is not good when you are trying to get re-elected.

Fortunately for Cleland and the Democrats, he goes into the Senate race this November with three distinct advantages. First, he is an incumbent. There is a lot of power available to a incumbent United States senator and Cleland can make the most of that between now and Election Day. Two, voters are so apathetic that most don’t seem to care who gets elected anymore. That doesn’t hurt his chances either. Third, Cleland will be running against a Republican. I don’t know if you have noticed or not but Republicans would rather fight with each other than with Democrats. Occasionally, a moderate Republican, like the late Paul Coverdell or Congressman Johnny Isakson slips through their ideological web and gets elected but they seem to be the exception. So don’t count on the Republicans offering someone with broad appeal.

Cleland will need all these advantages because if he is forced to run on his record, he will have a lot of explaining to do to the voters. While you and I have been focused on the state flag flap, the wonderful world of natural gas deregulation and whether Delta pilots can get by on the paltry sums paid them for their occasional labors, Cleland has been doing his best Ted Kennedy impression. Don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. There is an Internet site called CongressTrack/Project Vote Smart that categorizes the votes of all members of Congress on a variety of issues and how special interest groups on both ends of the political spectrum rate the members. I commend the site to you so that you can make up your own mind. What I found was that Senator Cleland scored highest with liberal groups and lowest with conservatives.

For example, the liberal watchdogs, the Americans for Democratic Action, gave Cleland a 70 percent approval rating in the year 2000. Only four other Southern senators – Edwards, of North Carolina, Graham, of Florida, Landrieu, of Louisiana, and Hollings, of South Carolina – were extolled by the ADA for “voting in support of liberal policies.” Conversely, Cleland, Edwards, Graham, Landrieu and Hollings received very low scores from the American Conservative Union.

Other votes are just as telling. All the business groups listed in Project Vote Smart rated Max Cleland low. The National Taxpayers League in their latest ranking, which dates to 1999, says Cleland voted to reduce or not increase government spending only 8 percent of the time. The National Journal, a respected Washington publication, rated Cleland more liberal on social policy issues than 69 percent of the U.S. Senate. Remember, this is the guy we sent to Washington to replace Sam Nunn. The last Georgia senator with a voting record like this was Wyche Fowler and he survived only one term.

While Zell Miller votes like the independent mountain man he is, Max Cleland votes like the partisan Democrat he is, i.e. liberal. I find no fault with that. If that is his philosophy, more power to him. Heck, some of my best friends are liberals. But I am willing to bet the farm that the closer the election gets, the more Cleland and his political handlers will be working to downplay his liberal voting record in order to get you to reelect him.

Let me suggest that you look closely at that voting record. If you agree with it, vote for Max Cleland. If you don’t, vote for whoever runs against him. But, whatever you do, don’t let him get away with pretending to be something he is not just so he can keep his Senate seat.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If it quacks like Ted Kennedy, it is probably Max Cleland.