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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Moving around because of the military or work is very different from cherry picking a state that one can win an election in, as Hillary and McCain did. Still, I do see your point that getting a good feel for more of the country than your hometown is a wise thing to do if one wants to be president.

  2. That McCain. What a carpetbagger. Only been in the state for about 26 years. You can ding him for getting married and going to work for his father-in-law, but he didn’t settle there to run for office. He settled there and then ran for open seats.

    For Clinton, its a fair cop, but that’s New York’s decision to have an Arkansas hick as their senator.

  3. Richard Gardner says:

    A related change is the viability of an identifiably urban candidate, Guiliani. Disregarding that some politicians spend most of their time in DC, when I think of the Presidents of this century only Kennedy stands out as being from a large city (Boston). Reagan spent much of his life in Los Angeles but came across as middle America (raised in Illinois).

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Not distinctive to this cycle. Satirist Mark Russell had a bit something like this about Gore in 2000:

    Oh, I wish I lived in the land of cotton.
    What’s cotton? I’ve forgotten!
    Look away, look away, look away Dixieland.

    He says he is from Tennessee
    This boy’s from Washington, DC
    Look away, look away, look away Dixieland.

    He says he is from Dixie, no way, no way
    etc.

    Part and parcel of the rise of a political class centered in Washington, DC.

  5. Triumph says:

    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.

    Richard Gardner should add Obama to the urban candidate list.

    And this guy Jonathan Martin is a bit silly to portray Obama as some carpetbagger. Sure, he attended a madrassa in Indonesia, but he has also been a resident of Chicago for 22 years–virtually his entire adult life aside from schooling.

    Giuliani’s residence is a bit fuzzy. When he had to leave the city-owned Gracie Mansion following his term as mayor, he chose to live with two gay lovers before finally buying a house in the Hamptons and a condo in Florida.

    His website doesnt say where he actually lives–it would be interesting to see where he is registered to vote.