Skip to content

Why a ‘carpetbagger’ attack is particularly powerful in Pennsylvania

In the abstract, it looks like a mighty attack: This opposing Senate candidate is just coming from New Jersey because he thinks he can win the election. He’s a baggage handler, in other words, a guy who doesn’t understand this state or its people.

It did not work. Yes, Mark Kelly was born in New Jersey, but the Arizona Republican Party’s efforts to use that against him, however scattereddidn’t stop the Democrat from being elected as a junior state senator in 2020.

Maybe you assumed I was referring to another one Effort to portray a Senate candidate as an outsider: The effort by supporters of Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman to portray that state’s Republican nominee, Mehmet Oz, as a baggage handler. (Perhaps that guess was helped by the large photo above.) It’s an effort that seems to have gotten a lot more traction than what was seen in Arizona, with more than half of respondents to a Fox News’ July poll saying they had at least some concern about Oz’s level of familiarity with the state.

There’s a good reason this attack would work better in Pennsylvania than Arizona, other than the fact that Kelly was married to a former congresswoman and Oz still has a home in Jersey. Pennsylvania is among the states with the highest percentage of residents born in the state; Arizona is among the states with the lowest percentage.

Sign up for How To Read This Chart, a weekly data bulletin from Philip Bump

The Census Bureau includes a question on where people are born in its centennial population surveys. By extracting this data back to 1850 (using the excellent IPUMS tool), we can see how each state’s population has changed over the past 170 years. (Data for 1890 was not available.)

There’s a lot of American history contained in this graphic, from immigration restrictions (seen in the wave-like pattern of the orange sections of the New York graphic, for example) to the country’s westward expansion. to the emergence of new states over time.

But what we’re focusing on is the share of each population born in the state in 2020. It looks like this.

Now the difference between Pennsylvania and Arizona is more obvious. Nearly three quarters of Pennsylvanians are from the state! Only about 4 in 10 Arizonans are.

As mentioned above, Pennsylvania is among the five states with the highest percentage of native-born residents. Arizona is among the five states with the lowest percentage.

Highest percentage of residents born in the state

50. District of Columbia (33.2%)

47. New Hampshire (40.9%)

Again, that’s not the only reason Kelly won or why Oz is trailing. But it does offer some insight into why efforts to make Kelly an East Coast intruder haven’t gained as much traction as the similar attack on Oz.

It also probably didn’t hurt that Kelly’s opponent in the Arizona Senate race was also born on the East Coast – making them both part of the 46% of the population of the state in 2020 who were not born there.