The Campaign Spot

Plenty of Red Splotches in that Supposedly Blue Ohio River Valley

Another couple thoughts on the silliness of the “GOP is a regional party” argument – here’s a map of the country, by House district, with Republicans in red, Democrats in blue:

House District Map

What’s striking about that map isn’t how little red there is in the non-Southern states; it’s how blue the South is.

Julian Sanchez, of Reason and elsewhere, picks a bone with yesterday’s post on the non-Southern voices in the Republican party.

But as I said, eyeballing physical maps tends to be misleading, unless you literally want to know how each party is faring by acreage. What those maps demonstrate is that there are big geographical chunks of the country outside the South that lean Republican. But that’s not really to the point.  The question is whether the party’s political power is concentrated in the South. Geraghty says it’s clearly not, because “The South amounts to 44 percent of the Republican House delegation, which means 56 percent has to come from somewhere else.” I’m inclined to throw in Missouri, which is technically part of the Midwest as the Census carves it, but that only gets us up to 48 percent, and given that the South is the most populous region of the country, that’s not wildly out of proportion. So that puts  a knife in the “regional party” canard, right?  Thing is, in 1994, the same states only accounted for 34 percent of the Republican House delegation. And as Bill Bishop has been arguing for some years now, we’ve become sufficiently mobile that geographical clustering by ideology tends to be self-reinforcing, at least at the county level: Conservative leaning areas and liberal leaning areas both tend to become more so over time, other things equal . . .

So it’s not that Geraghty is wrong so much, it’s that he’s got the right answer to  the snapshot question, but isn’t even taking up the analysis of the dynamic, which is what most of the talk I’ve heard about the Republicans “becoming a regional party” is actually about.

I guess we hear different talk; I would note that some people aren’t talking about a dynamic, or a trend; they’re saying it’s already done. “They have completely marginalized themselves to a mostly regional party,” Thomas Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County.

In fact, you hear it from quite a few Republicans.

Former Virginia congressman Tom Davis: “We’ve become a regional party, basically become a white, rural, regional party, and not a national party.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell: “[T]he Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe: ““The party is truly on its way to becoming a regional party.”

The AP quote that I cited in yesterday’s post is a bit more trend-focused: “With Sen. Arlen Specter’s switch to the Democrats, the Republican Party is increasingly at risk of being viewed as a mostly Southern and solidly conservative party, an identity that might take years to overcome.”

Yes, more members of the House GOP caucus come from the Southern states than they did in 1994. (By the way, was that referring to those Republicans serving in Congress in 1994, or the ones elected in 1994? Because there’s a 54-seat difference.) That’s neither surprising nor a crisis; it just shows that the GOP lost some normally winnable races in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, etc., in a year of phenomenal Democratic turnout.

One other point is that we’re measuring the House after a cycle in which the Republican presidential candidate conceded more territory, earlier, than almost any Republican candidate before. He pulled out of Michigan in October 2, and three weeks later, effectively gave up on Iowa, Colorado, and New Mexico. When the presidential candidate concedes the airwaves and ground game, and effectively tells Republicans in those states there’s no point in trying, that makes the challenge to GOP House candidates in those states much, much harder.