Southern Republicans

November 21, 1994

The last time Republicans controlled Congress, in 1953-1954, there were no -- that's zero -- Republican senators from the 11 states of the old Confederacy. Of 102 representatives from that region, 96 were Democrats. From then till now (and in every election before 1952 as well), the Republican Party never won a majority of Southern Senate or House seats.

On Nov. 8, it did. The region's 22 senators now break down 13-9 Republican. The party picked up two on election day in Tennessee and one in Alabama on the day after election day. The region's 125 House seats now divide 64-61 Republican, a net election day gain of 14.

This division does not appear subject to relapse. If anything, Southern Republicans will probably continue to gain seats in Congress. Some gains will be made in future elections, some in switches. Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby switched parties on his own. Six Southern Democratic representatives are reportedly negotiating with Republicans now over the possibility of switching parties before the 104th Congress convenes in January.

The South is a fast-growing region and as such will increase its relative strength in the House after every Census. The region has been increasing its number of congressional representatives by about six a decade. The House's total membership is fixed at 435, so every Southern gain means a loss somewhere else, usually in the East and Midwest.

Five of the 11 most populous states are in the South, and three of them will have Republican governors next year. All told, the region's 11 governorships are divided six Republican, five Democratic. That is also a first, thanks to the party taking governorships away from Democrats in Virginia last year and Texas, Alabama and Tennessee this year. There were also significant gains in several Southern state legislatures this year. Only two chambers (Florida Senate, North Carolina House) are majority Republican now, but in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, Republican control of at least one chamber could be only one election away.

Southern members of Congress were once at home only in the Democratic Party. This was due to tradition and inertia. They may have voted against liberal legislation, but they voted for Democrats for speaker of the House and Senate majority leader and for Democratic control of committees. The shift away from a Solid South to a roughly divided one means that what was essentially an artificial Democratic control of House and Senate will no longer occur.

Democrats used to be able to run Congress without winning big majorities in the Northeast, Midwest and West. Now they have to prevail -- or at least be competitive -- everywhere.

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