Why Southern Republicans want a seat at the House leadership table, in four charts

House Republicans will vote in leadership elections Thursday to fill the void left by Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s planned resignation. If all goes as expected, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will take over for Cantor, and three other members will fight over McCarthy’s job.

Some Southern Republicans see the whip position as their path back to leadership, and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), whose advisers say has claimed more than 100 votes of the 117 necessary to win a majority of the Republican Conference, is their candidate.

It’s little wonder Southerners are chomping at the bit. There hasn’t been a Republican from the Deep South in the top three Republican leadership jobs since Newt Gingrich resigned as House speaker in 1999 (Two Texans, Reps. Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, served in leadership posts between 1995 and 2005, but we’ve learned the hard way that Texans don’t like being lumped in with any other state).

At the same time, Southern members of Congress have become an increasingly dominant part of the House Republican Conference. Here’s a look at the percentage of Republican members by region, from 1968 to 2012, put together by Alex Gage, the Republican consultant and micro-targeting expert (Thanks, Alex!):


Graphic courtesy Alex Gage, CEO, Target Point Consulting

Back in 1968, when Richard Nixon kicked off his so-called “Southern strategy,” just 11 percent of the House Republican Conference hailed from a pretty solidly Democratic South. But as party roles changed and the Democratic grip on Southern states weakened, the GOP took on a distinctively Southern accent. After the 2012 elections, a whopping 39 percent of Republicans in the House hail from Deep South states, and another 9 percent come from Border South states.

At the same time, the percentage of Republicans from Mid-Atlantic states has dropped by a third, while West North Central states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, states in that region) have dropped almost in half. In 1968, 5 percent of the Republican conference came from New England; today, they don’t have a single member from Northeastern states.

Here’s the raw data:


Graphic courtesy Alex Gage, CEO, Target Point Consulting

The growth in Southern influence is even more stark if we take 1968 as a baseline. Since Nixon’s victory, the number of Republicans representing Deep South states has jumped by 69 seats. At the same time, the number of Republicans representing Border South states and the Mountain West grew by seven per region.


Graphic courtesy Alex Gage, CEO, Target Point Consulting

Most of the growth in the Mountain West can be attributed to the increase in the number of representatives those states earn through long-term reapportionment, rather than Republicans winning over Democratic seats in the short run. Most of the growth in the Deep South and Border South, by contrast, has come from once-Democratic seats that flipped to the GOP.


Graphic courtesy Alex Gage, CEO, Target Point Consulting

So, with McCarthy’s ascension, the House Republican leadership team will represent Ohio (Speaker John Boehner), California (McCarthy), Washington (Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers), Kansas (Conference Vice Chair Lynn Jenkins) and Oregon (NRCC chair Greg Walden). With the South playing such an outsized role in Republican politics, it’s no wonder they want one of their own at the leadership table.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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