Politics & Elections: How Rural Are the Speaker Candidates?

Republicans vying for Speaker of the House tend to come from districts with a below-average number of rural constituents. But there’s one exception.

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Tennessee’s 7th District, occupied by Republican Marsha Blackburn, a candidate for Speaker, is nearly half rural in population. The district (shown in yellow) lies between Nashville and Memphis.

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As we wait for the merry-go-round of the House Speaker’s race to come to a stop, we wondered whether the announced candidates come from particularly rural districts. The House Speaker is third in line to be President of the United States, after all. How familiar will the new Speaker be with rural people and communities?

Not much, it appears. With one exception, those Republicans lined up for Speaker don’t come from very rural districts.

Retiring Speaker John Boehner came from an Ohio district that had 24 percent of its population living in rural environs, according to the U.S. Census. That’s typical for Republicans. The average Republican House district had a rural population of 27.6 percent. (For the record, Democrats averaged 7.8 percent rural population.)

Yet the top contenders for the House Speaker slot are surprisingly urban. Everybody’s favorite, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, comes from a district that is 15 percent rural.

The Freedom Caucus of very conservative Republicans backs Daniel Webster of Florida. His district is a Democratic-like 8 percent rural. (BTW, the Freedom Caucus is no more rural than the House Republicans as a whole.)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Majority Leader who was expected to become the next Speaker, comes from a 13 percent rural district. McCarthy withdrew from the race last week.

The most rural Representative is also the most recent contender. Marsha Blackburn represents the area between Nashville and Memphis. Her district is 48 percent rural.

Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois has been mentioned as an alternative. He comes from a district that is more than 99 percent urban. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah has made noises about running. His district is 6 percent rural.

Bottom line: Of the five candidates, only one (Marsha Blackburn) has a larger percentage of rural constituents than the Republican House average. The rest of the contenders are considerably more urban than the voters who elected the Republican majority.

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