Boehner's Southern Flank

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By Albert R. Hunt

The House Republicans' vote on the so-called fiscal cliff deal, in which a solid majority went against their speaker, reflects the party's conservative and Southern drift of recent decades.

 The deal passed the House, 256 to 173, with most Democrats in favor. It was brought to the floor with the support of Speaker John Boehner, yet his rank and file voted 151 to 77 against it.

More than half the votes against the Boehner-backed measure came from representatives from the 11 Southern states of the old Confederacy. These states were once solidly Democratic. Now Republicans command big majorities in each of these House delegations. These members voted 78 to 12 against the debt package.

Conversely, representatives from large non-Southern states stuck with the speaker. Republican members from California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois voted 30 to 12 for the fiscal package.

The clout of these big-state Republican delegations has declined dramatically as the Southern influence in the party increases. A little more than 30 years ago, when President Ronald Reagan took office, the California House delegation was almost evenly divided; today, the Democrats hold a 39 to 14 advantage. The small margin in New York the Democrats had then has widened to 21 to 6. There are no Republican House members from any of the six New England states in the new Congress.

The opposite situation prevails in the South. In 1981, 19 of the 24 Texas House members were Democrats; today, the Republicans hold a 24-to-12 advantage. The same trend is apparent in Florida, where Democrats dominated 11 to 4, and Republicans now have a 17 to 10 advantage.

(Albert R. Hunt is Washington editor at Bloomberg News and a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- Jan/06/2013 16:41 GMT