Is Tampa-area Democrat Kathy Castor the ninth most liberal member in the House?

A ranking of Congressional liberals and conservatives raises questions in Tampa Bay.

The National Journal recently published its annual list of the most liberal and conservative members of Congress — all 535 of them. Most interesting in these parts: the D.C.-based publication named Tampa-area Democrat Kathy Castor the ninth most liberal member in the House, outranking Barney Frank, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Nancy Pelosi among others.

Asked about the ranking, Castor said she was surprised, immediately mentioning that she'd voted against the $700 billion TARP bailout for Wall Street banks. She said she considers herself a moderate, adding, "But I'm a very proactive member of Congress for my constituents."

Her ranking could arguably be viewed as a second-place finish: the eight House members ahead of her are all tied for first, with such relative unknowns as Rush Holt of New Jersey and Jan Schakowsky of llinois leading the field. (The country's most conservative senator, according to the list, is South Carolina's Jim DeMint, who headlined the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee's Lincoln Day Dinner last Saturday night in Tampa.)

The Journal bases its standings on 92 votes in the House and 99 votes in the Senate, all from 2009. But the rankings, which gauge how closely congresspersons hew to the party line. don't seem to correlate with the meaning of the "liberal" and "conservative" labels in the real world. For instance, firebrands like Dennis Kucinich (160th) and Alan Grayson (170th) are placed in the middle of the pack. And then there's Berkeley Representative Barbara Lee, who represents one of the most progressive districts in the country. Lee was the only member of the House to vote against the U.S. attack on Afghanistan after 9/11 and has never strayed from her leftist roots. But for 2009, the Journal ranks her 90th.

You may recall that in the past two election years, the Democratic candidates for president, Barack Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004, were both named by the National Journal as the most liberal senator in the country, rankings that bothered Democrats greatly; they all seem to want to run away from "the L-word," as it became known after George H.W. Bush successfully tarred Michael Dukakis with the appellation during the 1988 presidential campaign. A Gallup survey conducted last year found that most people in this country would rather be called anything but liberal, as only 20 percent called themselves such a thing, in comparison with 36 percent choosing moderate and 40 percent taking the conservative mantle.

And something for Maurice Ferre and everyone else to consider when it comes to the Florida U.S. Senate race this fall: We know that Democrat Kendrick Meek is a decided underdog against either Charlie Crist or Marco Rubio, but if the Republicans want to label Meek as "liberal," the National Journal disagrees. The Miami Democrat places only 176th in its rankings of the most liberal members of the House.