Candidates from Nowhere
Jonathan Martin notes that most of the leading candidates for president aren’t from anywhere.
With the race still in its early stages, the top tier of contenders in both parties is filled with people who reflect a new brand of post-regional politics. These candidates convey no distinct sense of place in either their personal style or political base.
Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain are the prototype examples. In both cases, they represent states where they had scant personal history until they settled there to run for office. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney also reflect the trend. The Illinois senator, vying with Clinton for the Democratic nomination, was born in Hawaii and raised there and in Indonesia before settling in Chicago after an Ivy League education in New York and Boston. Republican Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, grew up in Michigan, and established his national profile by running the Winter Olympic Games in Utah.
Among the first-rung candidates, only Democrat John Edwards of North Carolina and Republican Rudy Giuliani of New York are defined in the public mind vividly by where they are from. In both cases, these politicians have personal stories inextricably linked to their home states — a fact amplified by thick and unmistakable regional accents.
The fact that people who aren’t from a place can parachute in and get elected governor or senator would have been inconceivable not that long ago. We’re a mobile nation, though, and outside the rural areas it’s rather common for people to be from elsewhere.
While I’m something of an extreme example, having grown up in a military family, I’m part of this trend. Limiting the list only to places I considered my primary residence for at least six months, I’ve lived in Hampton, Virginia; Mannheim, Germany; Houston, Texas; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Kaiserslautern, Germany; El Paso, Texas; Jacksonville, Alabama; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Muenster, Germany; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Bainbridge, Georgia; Troy, Alabama; Ashburn, Virginia; and Alexandria, Virginia. That’s fifteen places in 41 years. If the threshold is lowered to a shorter time period, at least half a dozen other places would be on that list.
Arguably, the lack of regional identification could be a positive trait for a presidential candidate. They are, after all, running for chief executive of the whole country.