Dr. Mehmet Oz
Mehmet Oz became the poster child for carpetbagging candidates in 2022. Others are joining this year, hoping for more success. Derik Hamilton/AP

This Year’s Senate Campaigns Are Flush With Candidates From Out of State. Will It Matter?

Candidates in high-profile races have been in and out of the states they’re running in, but that might not be as much of a penalty now as it’s been in the past.

Candidates in some of the biggest elections of 2024 are presenting a central question for the future of campaigning: If all politics is now national, is there really any harm in running in a state you’re not wedded to?

A surprising number of Senate candidates this year have out-of-state ties that, in even the recent past, could have cost them their races. Some, like Republicans Dave McCormick in Pennsylvania and Eric Hovde in Wisconsin, own or rent homes in other states whose value far exceeds that of the residences they own in the states they’re running in. Others, like former Rep. Mike Rogers in Michigan, have an active voter registration in a different state.

Strategists and campaign operatives told NOTUS that while that presents clear liabilities for those campaigns, local ties aren’t as significant for the Senate as they used to be.

A candidate’s relationship to a state is not “more important than their position on something like the economy,” said Matt Canter, a Democratic strategist and former deputy executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But, he added, state ties are “critical in finding what a candidate’s motivation in running for office really is.”

While polling shows that voters overwhelmingly care more about a candidate’s political views than whether they share similar characteristics (including living in a similar community), any separation between a candidate and the voters they’re courting is an opening for opponents. Democrats have been hammering down on Republicans’ out-of-state connections to convince voters to support someone more like them.

Hovde runs a California bank and voted absentee in Wisconsin’s election last year (the ballot was reportedly sent to his home in California). Records show that while Hovde and his wife took out a mortgage for their home in Wisconsin in 2021, they appeared in California to sign it. He has “been named three years in a row among the most influential business leaders of Orange County, and Wisconsinites do know that we do not have an Orange County,” said Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who Hovde is hoping to face in November.

When asked directly by NOTUS at the Capitol last week about his connections to California, Hovde said that he’s a “fourth-generation Wisconsinite” who went to the University of Wisconsin and whose daughter also went to school in Wisconsin.

Carpetbagger accusations are “a good laugh,” he said, leaving a meeting with GOP Senate leadership members. Hovde tried to go further in dashing the idea he’s out of step with Wisconsin this week by tweeting a video of himself shirtless in a lake, adding the clip was “not safe for Californians and career politicians.”

Candidates accused of carpetbagging have rarely won recent elections, with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney in 2018. Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker both lost high-profile 2022 Senate races after months of being hammered as out-of-staters.

Eddie Vale, a former Senate campaign communications director and vice president for American Bridge, which has for years pushed opposition research on GOP candidates, sometimes on their residencies, believes carpetbagging has become more common in the GOP because of how the party has changed under Donald Trump.

“A lot of the traditional people who may have run for a Senate race, whether they’re moving up from the House district, or they’re moving up from governor or another statewide race, are no longer acceptable to the base of the party,” he said.

While it’s true that this election cycle is mostly Republicans who have outside connections to their states, it’s not just a GOP trend. This is an incumbent-heavy year for Democrats, so there’s not as much opportunity to outsource candidates from different states. But one of the most high-profile examples in recent history is Hillary Clinton, who became a senator for New York in 2001 despite not having lived in the state before the 2000 Senate race.

Having a national profile is often a key to success for state outsiders, said Christopher Galdieri, a professor at Saint Anselm College who studies carpetbagging. These candidates were able to “boost” state parties with fundraising and broad appeal in a way that local politicians couldn’t, he said.

Which gets at another reason why carpetbagging is more common now: cash-strapped national and state parties. Party leaders have an incentive to overlook potentially questionable state ties to field a self-funded candidate like Hovde or McCormick, who put $1 million into his own campaign in the last quarter of 2023.

McCormick faced the same accusations when he ran for the Republican Senate primary in 2022, losing to Oz. He voted in Pennsylvania for the first time in 16 years when his name was on the ballot. Three months after announcing that campaign, he sold a $6.5 million home in Fairfield, Connecticut, but still rents a multimillion-dollar home on the harbor in Southport. He bought a home in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood in 2022 and owns a family farm in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, but uses his Connecticut address as a mailing address and has done interviews from his Connecticut home. McCormick recently said he goes back to Connecticut because his youngest daughter lives with his ex-wife. “That’s a part of being a good dad,” he said in an interview. “If there’s a political cost associated with that, so be it.”

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This year’s Democratic primaries also have some dark horse candidates flush with cash and questionable ties to the states they’re running in. Democrat Stanley Campbell, running for the seat held by Sen. Rick Scott, grew up in Florida, but property records show him residing in Virginia since 1981 after he left the Navy. He said he moved back to Florida during the pandemic to help address disparities in vaccination rates in Miami-Dade County. His wife, Cheryl Campbell, who is an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, lives in Virginia. He’s spent $1 million of his own money on his campaign.

He told NOTUS he is running for Senate because he doesn’t believe any other candidates in the race can beat Scott. He also compared his decades away from Florida to Democratic front-runner former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell spending “14 years outside of Florida.” Mucarsel-Powell was born in Ecuador and immigrated to the United States at 14 years old. She has lived in Florida since 1996.

Hill Harper, an actor running as a progressive for Michigan’s open Senate seat, is in a similar position. While records show Harper has owned a house in the state since around 2017 and has claimed homestead tax exemptions on a famous Detroit mansion, he said he lived in Seattle until at least 2022 because his son was going to school there while he worked on a TV show in Canada. Additionally, a political donation he made in 2023 listed California as his primary residence. His campaign did not respond to NOTUS’ request for comment.

“Live in Michigan if you want to represent Michigan,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin — the front-runner for the Democratic nomination who has also been called a carpetbagger — told NOTUS when asked about her opponents’ ties to the state.

In competitive general races, a candidate’s background may be a big enough factor to influence voters. Sen. John Fetterman’s 2022 campaign used social media to hound Oz over his New Jersey connections. It worked for Fetterman, but there’s a question of whether incumbent Sen. Bob Casey will do the same to go after McCormick.

Casey told NOTUS McCormick’s residency might be “troubling” for voters, but he did not opine on how it would impact the race.

There’s plenty of nuance to what does and doesn’t constitute carpetbagging; even when a candidate has lived in the state for years, allegiance to another state is enough to bring up residency concerns.

During an unsuccessful run for the Texas House of Representatives in 2014, Sam Brown said, “It will literally take an act of God to take me out of Texas.” Brown moved to Nevada in 2018. Internet records show he was planning a political run for state assembly less than a year after he moved. He then launched a failed bid for the Republican Senate primary in 2022. He’s now the GOP front-runner to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Jacky Rosen.

In a statement, Brown’s campaign manager, Faith Jones, said that Rosen — like Brown — was not born in Nevada. Rosen has lived in the state since graduating college in 1979.

“Sam Brown is a Nevadan by choice; and he considers it his duty to help solve the problems our state and so many Nevada families are facing. It’s downright ridiculous and hypocritical to attack someone for stepping up to help save our state,” Jones said.

In Michigan, Rogers, former congressman for Michigan’s 8th District, is the GOP front-runner. He retired from the House in 2015, moved into a $1.8 million house in Florida for which he received a $50,000 homestead tax exemption in 2023, and then bought a one-bedroom $295,000 house in Michigan two months before he announced his candidacy.

“Mike’s been a part of the Michigan community for decades and proudly represented his hometown in the Michigan Senate and in Congress for 14 years, and he looks forward to the opportunity to continue serving the people of Michigan,” said Chris Gustafson, communications director for Rogers’ campaign.

As for how Senate Republicans’ campaign arm has responded to carpetbagging accusations? Those are just “Democratic talking points,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines. “They do live in the states that they’re running in.”

Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS. Katherine Swartz is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.