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Clout Is What It’s About: Which States Are Most Powerful?

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Rep. Eric Cantor's post as House Majority Leader has helped propel Virginia to a No. 5 ranking.

Virginia and Washington made major moves in Roll Call’s biennial assessment of which state delegations hold the most clout on Capitol Hill.

The Old Dominion, bolstered by GOP Rep. Eric Cantor’s leap from House Minority Whip to House Majority Leader, is now the fifth-most-powerful state, its highest showing in Roll Call’s rankings.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray — recently named co-chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction — led the Evergreen State into the top 10 for the first time. Murray keeps a full portfolio: She is also the Senate Democratic Conference secretary and chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

For Washington, Murray’s position on the super committee was key to the state’s cracking the top 10. Without that consideration, the state was ranked 11. With it, Washington gets to No. 8.

The GOP’s 2010 take-back of the House was pivotal in Texas edging out New York for second place. The two states frequently vie for the spot behind longtime powerhouse California.

The Texas delegation, with an overwhelming Republican edge and two Members in House leadership — Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling, Murray’s House counterpart on the super committee, and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions — claimed the No. 2 spot over the Empire State. New York still boasts the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, Charles Schumer, as well as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel.

The death of the longest-serving Senator, Democrat Robert Byrd, is in part behind the falling clout of West Virginia, which dropped 15 spots, the largest move in either direction among the states.

In the opposite direction, several states made strong gains in the 112th Congress, including sparsely populated Montana, which catapulted 12 spots to become the 29th most powerful.

Alaska rose 11 spots to 14th in the rankings, largely on the basis of its per capita federal spending. Kansas increased its clout by eight spots, Kentucky went up seven, and Iowa and Washington went up six.

Roll Call’s analysis is based only on the numbers, and they can be stark. For instance, Pennsylvania, the sixth-most-populated state, for the first time fell from the top 10. Its fall continues a two-decades-long slide; in Roll Call’s inaugural 1990 rankings, it was the third-most-powerful delegation.

For Florida, too, the rankings are difficult. The fourth-most-populous state has the least clout per lawmaker of any in the union. The Sunshine State’s Members pulled in only 22.32 clout points each, on average. In comparison, the highest-ranking clout-per-Member state, Alaska, achieved 169.01 points for each Member of its delegation.

The clout-per-Member statistic, which does not bear on a state’s overall ranking, tends to favor small states. The top five ranking states by clout-per-Member are, respectively, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota and Vermont. The five worst in that category are, from the bottom up, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and Texas.

To calculate clout, Roll Call uses a formula that awards points for criteria that include:

• size of the delegation
• number of full committee chairmen and ranking members
• number of members on the most influential committees
• top leadership posts
• number of Members in the majority
• per capita federal spending received
• seniority

Here’s a closer look at the 10 states with the most clout:

1. California
Points: 1,438
Previous rank: 1
Population rank: 1

California has, by far, the most juice in Congress. Since Roll Call began calculating delegation clout in 1990, the Golden State has been ensconced in the top position.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) is the top Californian, but her colleagues also pepper committee chairmanships. Though it lost the speakership, the state boasts Republican Rep. David Dreier as head of the Rules Committee and GOP Reps. Buck McKeon and Darrell Issa as chairmen of the Armed Services and Oversight and Government Reform committees, respectively.

House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra’s appointment to the super committee, as well as the state’s sheer numbers — its 55-Member delegation is far and away the largest — put it in a class by itself.

2. Texas
Points: 868
Previous rank: 3
Population rank: 2

The 2010 elections and the Texas delegation’s numbers and leadership posts enabled the Lone Star State to displace New York for second place.

Republicans’ campaign committees are both chaired by Texans, with Sen. John Cornyn heading the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Rep. Pete Sessions leading the House counterpart.

GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s position in leadership and on the super committee helped, but so did the state’s positions in committees.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R) leads the Judiciary Committee, and Republican Reps. John Culberson and Kay Granger lead Appropriations subcommittees, with Culberson chairing the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Granger leading the State and Foreign Operations subpanel.

Texas boasts 17 members on the most influential committees, the second highest behind California and five more than New York.

3. New York
Points: 806
Previous rank: 2
Population rank: 3

New York has a long tenure near the top of Roll Call’s rankings, having never fallen lower than third place. Since 2005, the Empire State had held steady at second. What happened?

Part of the answer is that Democrats lost the House majority, and then New York lost the top Democratic slots on two key committees. Democratic Rep. Charlie Rangel resigned the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee in March 2010 amid his ethics scandal, and Rep. Edolphus Towns was pushed from the top Democratic slot on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee after the 2010 elections.

The changes left the House delegation with only one chairmanship or ranking member slot on a full committee — Rep. Peter King (R), who heads the Homeland Security Committee.

Also, the home of Wall Street holds little sway on the House Financial Services Committee. Though Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Carolyn McCarthy are the top Democrats on two subcommittees, no New Yorker chairs a subcommittee. Two subcommittees are chaired by Texans.

A bright spot for New York in the House is Steve Israel’s post atop the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The state has more power in the Senate, where Charles Schumer has continued to build his power base in leadership.

4. Michigan
Points: 671
Previous rank: 4
Population rank: 8

Despite population loss and a desolate economy, Michigan still has clout.

While the dean of the House, Democratic Rep. John Dingell, was deposed from the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2008, a Michigan colleague reclaimed it after the 2010 elections: GOP Rep. Fred Upton.

And Upton and Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, are on the super committee. Camp’s Democratic counterpart on Ways and Means is also a Michigander, Rep. Sander Levin.

Michigan’s two Senators lead two major committees, with Sen. Carl Levin, Sander’s younger brother, heading the Armed Services Committee and Sen. Debbie Stabenow heading the Agriculture Committee.

The Wolverine State’s Achilles’ heel might be the Appropriations committees, where Michigan has no members, either in the House or Senate. This might be one reason the state is 39th in federal spending per capita.

5. Virginia
Points: 641
Previous rank: 8
Population rank: 12

The success of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor propelled the commonwealth to its highest ranking.

But while Cantor is a major force behind the GOP’s push to slash federal spending, the key to Virginia’s move into the top five is its per capita federal spending.

Virginia’s $19,733 per capita federal spending puts the state second only to Alaska in that category.

Besides Cantor’s slot in leadership, Rep. Frank Wolf (R) chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science. But the four Members Virginia has on the most influential committees in the House and Senate is relatively meager.

The seniority of Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb is the third lowest in that chamber.

6. Florida
Points: 603
Previous rank: 5
Population rank: 4

Not only did Florida fall a slot from 2009’s rankings, its ratio of clout to delegation size is the lowest of any state.

The Sunshine State does boast the chairmanships of Rep. John Mica (R) on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) on Foreign Affairs.

But only nine of its 25 House Members are on the most influential committees. That’s behind California, Texas and New York. But it’s also behind Illinois and Ohio, two states with smaller delegations.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson doesn’t chair a full committee, and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has little legislative sway to show for his political clout.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz chairs the Democratic National Committee, a position with undeniable influence. But the slot is not part of Roll Call’s clout formula.

7. Maryland
Points: 577
Population rank: 19
Previous rank: 9

No state in the top 10 has a smaller population than Maryland, but its 10-Member delegation packs a punch.

Though being in the Democratic minority diminishes clout, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen and Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings all contribute to the Old Line State’s influence.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski is chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science. Sen. Benjamin Cardin was elected to the Senate in 2006, but the Democrat represented Maryland in the House for 20 years, boosting the state’s clout. Bordering Washington, D.C., like Virginia, Maryland lawmakers bring home the bacon more effectively than all but a few states. Maryland is fourth in per capita federal spending.

8. Washington
Points: 544
Population rank: 13
Previous rank: 14

Leading the delegation is Sen. Patty Murray, whose positions in leadership and in committees from Appropriations to the super committee have made the “mom in tennis shoes” a Washington power broker.

Another Washington woman, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is more powerful now that Republicans are in charge of the House. Elected vice chairwoman of the GOP Conference in 2008 and re-elected for the 112th Congress, McMorris Rodgers is a trusted ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Rep. Doc Hastings (R) chairs the Natural Resources Committee.

And the ascension of Rep. Norm Dicks (D) to Appropriations ranking member helped shore up the state’s position.

9. Massachusetts
Points: 542
Population rank: 14
Previous rank: 6

Even as twilight sets on the Kennedy dynasty, the family’s home state of Massachusetts is maintaining solid clout in Congress.

The all-Democratic House delegation took a hit when Republicans took control of the House, with Rep. Barney Frank handing over the Financial Services Committee gavel to Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.).

But Rep. Ed Markey’s spot as the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee boosted Massachusetts.

Sen. John Kerry (D) continues to chair the Foreign Relations Committee, helping Massachusetts in the rankings.

Five of the 10 House Members from the Bay State are on the most influential committees. The state is seventh in per capita federal spending.

10. Illinois
Points: 533
Population rank: 5
Previous rank: 10

Holding steady at 10th place is Illinois. Home of President Barack Obama, Illinois has a solid claim in the Senate, where Sen. Dick Durbin is the second-ranking Democrat and heads the Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. But the Prairie State has less heft in the House. Hurting it in the rankings is that no Member of its delegation chairs any influential full committee.

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