In the abstract, it seems like a potent attack: This Senate candidate from the opposing party is simply airdropping in from New Jersey because he thinks he can win election. He’s a carpetbagger, in other words, a guy who doesn’t understand this state or its residents.
It didn’t work. Yes, Mark Kelly had been born in New Jersey, but the Arizona Republican Party’s effort to use that against him, however scattershot, didn’t prevent the Democrat from being elected as the state’s junior senator in 2020.
Perhaps you assumed I was referring to another effort to cast a Senate candidate as an outsider: The effort from supporters of Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to depict the Republican nominee in that state, Mehmet Oz, as a carpetbagger. (Perhaps that assumption was aided by the large photograph above.) It’s an effort that appears to have gotten much more traction than was seen in Arizona, with more than half of respondents in a July Fox News 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 in Arizona, setting aside the fact that Kelly has been married to a former congresswoman and Oz still has a home in Jersey. Pennsylvania is among the states with the highest percentage of residents who were born in the state; Arizona is among the states with the lowest percentage.
The Census Bureau includes a question about where people were born in its centennial surveys of the population. Extracting that data since 1850 (using the excellent IPUMS tool) we can see how the population of each state has evolved over the past 170 years. (Data for 1890 were not available.)
There’s a lot of American history contained in that graph, from restrictions on immigration (seen in the wavelike pattern of the orange sections in New York’s graph, for example) to the expansion of the country to the west to the emergence of new states over time.
But what we are focused on is the portion of each population born in the state in 2020. That looks like this.
Now, the difference between Pennsylvania and Arizona is more readily obvious. Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvanians are native to 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.
Again, this isn’t the only reason that Kelly won or that Oz is trailing. But it does offer a glimpse of why efforts to cast Kelly as an East Coast interloper didn’t gain as much traction as the similar attack on Oz.
It probably also didn’t hurt that Kelly’s opponent in the Arizona Senate race was also born on the East Coast — making both of them part of the 46 percent of the state’s population in 2020 that wasn’t born there.