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Thursday August 25, 2011 | 12:45 PM

Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine are among the three least conservative Senate Republicans, according to a legislative scorecard released today by the conservative Heritage Action for America, which is affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank.

Collins received a rating of 45 percent and Snowe a rating of 51 percent. Of Senate Republicans, only Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska received a lower rating, at 40 percent. GOP Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah were rated the most conservative, at 99 percent and 98 percent respectively, and 19 GOP senators received ratings above 80 percent. The most conservative Democrat by Heritage Action’s measure, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, received a rating of 25 percent.

Collins and Snowe are considered moderate Republicans, so the ratings by Heritage Action don't come as a big surprise.

The ratings were derived from a combination of evaluating what Heritage Action considered 19 key Senate votes and sponsorship of four key Senate bills.

For instance, Heritage Action says the conservative position would have been to vote against the judicial confirmation of Jack McConnell of Rhode Island to be a U.S. District Court judge and for the House GOP budget proposal earlier this year, but Collins and Snowe voted in favor of the confirmation and against the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. And neither Snowe nor Collins is a sponsor of any of the four pieces of legislation cited by the group as key conservative indicators, including a bill protecting state right to work laws and a bill barring federal regulators from essentially taking any actions to regulate greenhouse gases aimed at addressing climate without specific authorization from Congress.

The only vote graded by Heritage Action where Snowe and Collins differed was on an amendment to a small business research funding bill that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating climate change under the auspices of the Clean Air Act. Snowe voted in favor of that amendment, while Collins voted against it.

“We are tough graders and we don't apologize for it,” said Michael Needham, Heritage Action’s CEO.  “After all, we are conservatives, not tenured university professors."

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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