“The non-partisan group Congress.org rates the performance of national legislators using a scale from 0 to 100,” a female announcer states in Mufi Hannemann’s newest radio advertisement hammering at Democratic rival Neil Abercrombie. “How did Abercrombie rate? Neil got a 16.3. Among those who had been in Congress as long as him, Neil was dead last.”

Listen to the audio here:

Wow, dead last? Well, sort of.

First of all, the Hannemann camp is less than generous with its numbers. According to Congress.org, the site mentioned in Hannemann’s ad and then linked to in a follow-up press release, Abercrombie’s “power score” was 16.39. Most people would round that figure up to 16.4 rather than down to 16.3, but in a knock-down, drag-out primary battle, that 0.1 could make the difference. No mercy.

What is a “power score,” you ask? Researchers at Knowlegis measured and weighed characteristics like position, indirect influence, legislative activity and earmarks to determine the relative power or potential power of members of Congress heading into 2008. Abercrombie’s score ranks him 213th in the House of Representatives, just above the halfway mark.

The 16.39 figure might sound extremely low on a 0-to-100 scale, but this isn’t your high school science class bell curve we’re talking about. Of 435 representatives, only eight scored above 50. Six of 99 senators broke 50. Of Hawaii’s delegates, senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye scored 30.95, Sen. Daniel Akaka 29.60 and Rep. Mazie Hirono 10.50.1

But we’re not here to quibble over decimals. The meat of Hannemann’s claim is that Abercrombie ranked “dead last” among “those who had been in Congress as long as him.” There are a few different ways to interpret that last phrase — “as long as.” Let’s go through them.

Abercrombie was first elected to Congress 24 years ago when Cec Heftel left his 1st Congressional District seat after serving 10 years to run for governor. Abercrombie is part of the Elected Class of 1986, and his 16.39 was 11th out of 12 representatives. For those keeping track at home, Rep. Elton Gallegly, a Republican from California’s 24th district, is “dead last” with a score of 13.91.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has come to Abercrombie’s defense in the days since Hannemann released the radio ad, has a score of 97.30 that ranks first both in the Class of 1986 and the full House of Representatives. Six senators, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (109.70) and 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain (46.75), entered the upper chamber in 1986 and scored ahead of Abercrombie, too.

But the truth is that while Abercrombie is a member of the Class of 1986, his work in Congress really started four years later. The first time around, he served just three months in office, as Republican Pat Saiki topped a 32-year-old Democrat named Mufi Hannemann in the general election in November. Hannemann had topped Abercrombie in the primary the same night Abercrombie won the special election; you’d think Hannemann would remember that bloody first round.

If you compare Abercrombie’s score against those who entered Congress in 1990 with him, he tops three of 19 representatives and one of two senators. But all four of those behind Abercrombie left the Capitol in the years since the rankings were compiled.

What about those who were in Congress for longer than Abercrombie? It’s not inappropriate to say that they’ve been there “as long as” him. Of those in the Class of 1988, six representatives had scores lower than Neil’s. There’s Rep. Gallegly from 1986, two more from 1984, two from 1982 and two from 1980. You get the point.

And that doesn’t even include the many representatives who served for “as long as” or longer than Abercrombie but were already out of office when the rankings were compiled to reflect 2007’s power structure.

There may be different ways to interpret the timeframe under discussion, but there’s no room for interpretation when it comes to “dead last.” That means there is nobody behind you. There are representatives who have been in Congress longer than Abercrombie who have accrued less power.

But if we take “as long as” literally and only include those who entered Congress with Abercrombie in 1990 and remain in the Capitol today, then he is in fact bringing up the rear — “dead last.”

  1. This paragraph was not included in the original version of this story.

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