Still, the most widespread Democratic defections came from Southern states, most of which backed McCain over Obama last November. Eighteen of the 44 Democratic "no" votes came from the 11 states of the Old Confederacy; 40 Southern Democrats supported the bill. That means nearly a third of Southern Democrats opposed the bill, a higher defection rate than in the Midwest and Plains (20 percent), much less the Northeast (8 percent) and the Pacific West (just under 7 percent).
Most Republicans from every region opposed the bill. But the meager support was concentrated in the Northeast (five members who voted yes) and the West Coast (two supporters), with Kirk from Illinois casting the final affirmative vote.
Initially, few observers believed the House could pass climate change legislation this year amid a severe economic downturn. But several factors strengthened its prospects. The principal sponsors, Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of California and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, skillfully negotiated compromises that allowed the bill to attract support not only from prominent Democrats linked to coal and rural interests (led by Virginia's Rick Boucher and Minnesota's Collin Peterson), but also to draw almost unprecedented backing from utility companies that typically have fought Democratic environmental initiatives. (A handful of House liberals opposed the bill Friday on the grounds that it conceded too much to industry.)
The legislation was also an unmistakable personal priority for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a centerpiece of the domestic agenda for Obama, whose approval ratings remain around 60 percent. An ABC/Washington Post survey this week showed that a 56 percent majority of Americans supported action to reduce carbon emissions, even if it raised energy bills $10 a month, about as much as the Environmental Protection Agency this week estimated the bill would cost.
If the bill had still failed despite all of those assets, the collapse might have cast a long shadow over the remainder of the party's ambitious agenda this year, including health care. Instead, House Democrats held together just enough to move the climate change legislation forward into the Senate.
The House's regional voting patterns underscore the challenge facing the climate change bill on that stage of its journey. Surprisingly broad support from House Democrats in states such as Missouri, Virginia, Michigan and Ohio could make it easier for Democratic senators from those states to also back climate change legislation.
But the opposition from the sole Democratic representatives in North Dakota, South Dakota and Louisiana; both Democratic representatives from West Virginia; and majorities of the Democratic delegations from Arkansas and Indiana capture the political pressures facing Democratic senators from those states on this issue.
As tight as the vote was in the House, the margin for error is even narrower in the Senate: Democrats now hold 59 seats and will probably need 60 votes to advance the bill against a virtually-certain Republican filibuster.
This article appears in the June 27, 2009, edition of National Journal.