Best and Worst of Congress

Capitol Hill staffers rate their bosses: who's naughty, who's nice, who's smart, who's not, and lots more.

Knowlegis, a government-relations data and software company, contributed to and helped distribute this survey.

Oh, the stories they tell. Get some Capitol Hill staffers together and you get the scoop on which bosses are nasty and which are nice, which senator has a sharp mind and which House member relies too much on staff.

So every election year we survey top aides on both sides of the aisle—administrative assistants, press secretaries, legislative directors, and chiefs of committee staffs—to get their up-close and personal, and anonymous, views.

This year, we sent out some 1,700 ballots and received back a nearly identical number of Democratic and Republican responses. For each we donate $1 to a charity: So Others Might Eat or the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs.

Our survey shows that while there may be lots of partisan backbiting among the senators and House members, their staffers seem far more capable of putting politics aside and making honest judgments. It wasn’t unusual for aides in both parties to name one of their own as “spineless” or give the “workhorse” nod to someone across the aisle. Some politicians were runaway winners: Senator Barack Obama, for instance, received more votes for “rising star” than all the other contenders combined. But in many categories, votes were scattered among as many as 60 or 70 names.

Here’s our look at the Capitol Hill gang from the inside out.

The Senate

Best Leader

1. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

2. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

3. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

In a mostly party-line vote, Democrats unite around their soft-spoken, sharply partisan leader, while Republicans rally around their leader-in-waiting.

Worst Follower

1. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.)

2. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

3. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

Chafee’s the most liberal member of the GOP. Close behind are McCain, a little less of a maverick as 2008 nears, and Lieberman, a Bush ally on the Iraq war, much to his party’s dismay.

Workhorse

1. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

2. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)

3. Tie: Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.);Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

The Democratic lion still roars after more than 40 years in Senate; Specter barely missed a beat during cancer treatment.

Show Horse

1. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

2. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

3. Joseph Biden (D-Del.)

Getting votes from both sides, the New Yorker is the subject of the old joke: The most dangerous place in DC is between Chuck Schumer and a TV camera.

Brainiest

1. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)

2. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.)

3. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.)

All but two of the former first lady’s votes are from Democrats, while Frist’s admirers are exclusively Republican. John Sununu is another GOP favorite.

No Rocket Scientist

1. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.)

2. Tie: Rick Santorum (R-Pa.); George Allen (R-Va.)

Aides on both sides wish the Hall of Fame pitcher had more than a good arm.

Straightest Shooter

1. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

2. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.)

3. Tie: Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.);Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)

McCain’s Straight Talk Express is still humming. He gets votes from both sides, as does Hagel, considered “McCain Lite.”

No Altar Boy/Girl

1. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

2. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)

3. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.)

Kennedy, getting votes mainly from Republicans, can’t escape bad-boy past.

Hottest Temper

1. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)

2. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

3. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

Stevens, known for wearing an Incredible Hulk tie to intimidate friend and foe, and McCain, known to snap at staff when the cameras are off, get bipartisan votes.

Funniest

1. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)

2. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

The Kansan must need a sense of humor to chair the Intelligence Committee.

Most Eloquent

1. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)

2. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

3. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

The oldest man in the Senate can spin a yarn including Cicero and the beauty of his state. Obama, the youngest, woos young and old, black and white.

Biggest Windbag

1. Joseph Biden (D-Del.)

2. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)

3. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Biden set a record for the most “question time” (i.e. talking) during Supreme Court nomination hearings.

Just Plain Nice

1. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)

2. John Thune (R-S.D.)

3. Tie: Tom Carper (D-Del.); Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.); Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)

Lincoln, a mother of twins and former staff assistant in the House (before she beat her boss in a primary), is quite kind.

Meanest

1. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

2. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)

3. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)

She may be under five feet tall, but Mikulski still strikes fear in staff.

Gutsiest

1. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

2. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)

3. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

Coburn spent the year attacking his colleagues’ pork, while Feingold railed against their pay raises.

Spineless

1. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.)

2. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.)

3. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.)

Heart surgeon was seen by Republicans and Democrats as forsaking science for politics with his Terry Schiavo video diagnosis.

Rising Star

1. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

2. John Thune (R-S.D.)

3. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

The 45-year-old Obama is a DC phenom, getting nearly half of all votes cast.

Falling Star

1. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.)

2. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)

3. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

Frist’s presidential dreams look dimmer. He gets boos from both sides, as does the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.

Hunk

1. John Thune (R-S.D.)

2. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

3. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.)

Thune’s farm-boy looks plus his win over Democratic leader Tom Daschle equals hubba-hubba for the GOP.

Babe

1. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)

2. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)

3. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)

Cantwell hopes looks will help her in tough reelection battle. Landrieu’s Southern charm also wins many votes—and a few billion for Katrina victims.

Best Dressed

1. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.)

2. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

3. Trent Lott (R-Miss.)

Smith dresses like the CEO he was; Obama could be on the cover of CQ and GQ.

Fashion Victim

1. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

2. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)

3. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)

The two meanest are also the two worst dressed. Someone need a shopping day?

Most Ethical

1. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.)

2. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

3. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

Feingold interns can’t even accept a free hot dog from a lobbyist.

Ethically Challenged

1. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.)

2. Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

3. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

Republican continues to be “burned” by connections to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Reid gets hit for free tickets to boxing matches.

Bridge-Building Centrist

1. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)

2. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

3. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

Lieberman gets more votes from GOP than his own party. His support of the Iraq war cost the 18-year incumbent his party’s nomination for reelection.

Senator I’d like to see win the presidency in 2008

1. George Allen (R-Va.)

2. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)

3. Tie: John McCain (R-Ariz.);

Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)

Party-line vote: Republicans see Allen as president, while Democrats call him “no rocket scientist.” Hmmm, sounds familiar.

The House

Best Leader

1. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

2. John Boehner (R-Ohio)

3. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.)

Democrats and Republicans both pick their number twos over their number ones.

Worst Follower

1. Ronald Paul (R-Texas)

2. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) 3. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

Paul has a reputation for listening to one person: himself. He’s proposed a constitutional amendment to abolish income taxes and wants the United States to quit the UN.

Workhorse

1. David Obey (D-Wis.)

2. John Spratt (D-S.C.)

3. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.)

Democrats unite around Obey and Spratt while Republicans admire Thomas’s work ethic. The same three took top honors two years ago but in a different order.

Show Horse

1. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas)

2. Mike Pence (R-Ind.)

3. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

Staffers have proposed a drinking game to honor the Texan, who gets more than twice as many votes as others: “Sheila Jackson-Lee is on C-Span. Do a shot.”

Brainiest

1. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

2. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.)

3. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.)

Democrats and a handful of Republicans give Frank top honors, while Republi­cans and a handful of Democrats go for Thomas. New Jersey’s Rush Holt is also considered a smarty.

No Rocket Scientist

1. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.)

2. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.)

They get votes from both sides, but there were dozens of other contenders.

Straightest Shooter

1. Tie: John Boehner (R-Ohio); David Obey (D-Wis.)

2. Tie: Steny Hoyer (D-Md.); Gene Taylor(D-Miss.); John Murtha (D-Pa.); SamJohnson (R-Texas)

“Are you kidding? They’re politicians!” wrote one aide in a category with little agreement and lots of choices.

No Altar Boy/Girl

1. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)

2. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.)

3. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.)

Kennedy follows in his father’s footsteps with this dubious honor. He may need more than drug rehab to repair his image.

Hottest Temper

1. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.)

2. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.)

3. Jim Moran (D-Va.)

McKinney made headlines this year for striking a Capitol policeman who failed to recognize her. And she came in second! Thomas doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Moran’s bark earned a third.

Funniest

1. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

2. Mark Foley (R-Fla.)

3. Ralph Hall (R-Texas)

Barney always tops the list.

Most Eloquent

1. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

2. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

3. John Lewis (D-Ga.)

A pit bull, yes, but a pithy one. Frank draws votes from both sides, as does Hoyer. Lewis’s fan base is Democratic.

Biggest Windbag

1. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas)

2. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.)

Both sides agree these are two big talkers, but Hurricane Sheila, as she’s been dubbed by critics, gets twice as many votes.

Just Plain Nice

1. Lois Capps (D-Calif.)

2. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.)

3. Walter Jones (R-N.C.)

Good news from the Hill—aides name scores of likable bosses. The former school nurse out-nices a father of four Eagle Scouts and the courtly Walter “freedom fries” Jones.

Meanest

1. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.)

2. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas)

3. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio)

Both sides have darts for Thomas and Jackson-Lee, while Schmidt has rubbed mostly Democrats the wrong way.

Gutsiest

1. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

2. John Murtha (D-Pa.)

3. Chet Edwards (D-Texas)

Flake’s eagle eye for spending excesses earns him kudos from both sides, while hawk turned war critic Murtha is a favorite among Democrats.

Spineless

1. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.)

2. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.)

3. David Dreier (R-Calif.)

Votes were widely scattered. Shays was the lone GOP voice calling on Tom DeLay to step down in 2005—that didn’t win him many friends.

Rising Star

1. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.)

2. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)

3. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.)

The baby-faced Putnam has been mistaken for an intern and carded at Capitol Hill bars but was named chair of the House Republican Policy Committee.

Falling Star

1. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

2. Bob Ney (R-Ohio)

3. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.)

Blunt’s loss to Boehner in the race for majority leader and Ney’s retirement in wake of the Abramoff scandal send them downward.

Hunk

1. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.)

2. Connie Mack (R-Fla.)

3. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.)

Known for his coiffure, Taylor kept every hair in place even through Hurricane Katrina.

Babe

1. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.)

2. Mary Bono (R-Calif.)

3. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)

In our last poll, Bono edged out Herseth, but this time the Midwestern farm girl gets nearly double the votes.

Best Dressed

1. David Dreier (R-Calif.)

2. Mark Foley (R-Fla.)

3. Tie: John Boehner (R-Ohio); Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

The natty Californian wins in a bipartisan landslide, as he did in the 2004 poll.

Fashion Victim

1. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)

2. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio)

3. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.)

DeLauro continues to get much bipartisan grief for her mismatched ensembles.

Most Ethical

1. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.)

2. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.)

3. Howard Berman (D-Calif.)

Hefley was sacked as chairman of the Ethics Committee after rebuking Tom DeLay. Unlike DeLay, he’s still around.

Ethically Challenged

1. William Jefferson (D-La.)

2. Bob Ney (R-Ohio)

3. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.)

Several choices this year, but hard to top Jefferson’s $90,000 in the freezer.

Bridge-Building Centrist

1. Michael Castle (R-Del.)

2. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.)

3. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.)

Moderate Castle looks for consensus on divisive issues like stem-cell research.

House Member I’d Like to See Win the Presidency in 2008

1. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

2. John Boehner (R-Ohio)

3. John Spratt (D-S.C.)