When Birth Certificates and Senate Races Clash

by Nathan L. Gonzales April 29, 2014 · 10:51 AM EDT

Democrats have attacked a trio of Republican Senate candidates for not being born in the states they seek to represent. While the issue could matter in a close race, there are four dozen senators who prove that birthplace isn’t necessarily a stumbling block to getting elected.

Just more than half of current senators, 52 percent, were born in the state they now represent. The other 48 senators were born in another state, or even another country. For example, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was born in India and Texas Republican Ted Cruz was born in Canada.

(Chart: Birthplaces of Senators of the 113th Congress)

That might be sobering news for Democrats trying to portray Dan Sullivan, the Ohio-born Republican running in Alaska; Steve Daines, the California-born, at-large House member running in Montana; or Scott Brown, the Maine native and former Massachusetts senator running in New Hampshire; as strangers in a foreign land. But it won’t stop Democrats from trying.

On a side note, 20 percent of the Democratic caucus (11 senators out of 55, including independents Bernard Sanders and Angus King) were born in the state of New York.

The Empire State’s two senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are natives, but Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, California’s Barbara Boxer, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, Minnesota’s Al Franken, New Jersey’s Robert Menendez, Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller, Sanders, and Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse were all born in New York as well.

(Blumenthal and my colleague Stuart Rothenberg both grew up in Manhattan and attended high school at the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx.)

Of course, the response from party strategists will be, “Well, in Alaska it really matters,” or “In Montana it really matters.” Just cut and paste the state to suit your needs. And in some states, or in some situations, being born in the state in which you are running could be an advantage, at least with some people.

Birthplace could matter in a very close race where any number of factors could make a difference. But let’s not pretend that where a candidate is born is a big deal in most contests or disqualifies someone from getting elected to the Senate.