Hillary, Bernie, and the Weird Battle to Call New York a "Home State"

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Hillary, Bernie, and the Weird Battle to Call New York a "Home State"

What makes a state ‘home’ for a presidential candidate? Do they have to have been born there, or live there now? Is a home state a place they serve or served in office, or where they spent their early years? Can more trivial connections still make a ‘home state’?

According to the media, Hillary Clinton has home-state advantage in about half of America. Four states at least are considered Clinton territory: Arkansas, where she lived for eight years while her husband was Governor; Illinois, where Hillary was born and raised; New York, Hillary’s residence since 1999 and where she served as Senator from 2001 to 2009; and the most obscure, Pennsylvania, where her father was born, and a state which Clinton apparently shares “values” with. Then of course there’s Washington DC, where Hillary served as both First Lady and Secretary of State, as well as Connecticut, where she graduated from law school, and Massachusetts, where she spent four years at college.

That’s seven total for HRC, not including the Deep South states so favorable to Clinton, often referred to collectively as her “Southern firewall.” Altogether, it’s a formidable chunk of the US that Hillary Clinton can apparently call friendly territory. And what does Bernie Sanders get in the ‘home state’ stakes? Just lonely old Vermont.

Though he arguably has as good a claim on Illinois (where he studied for four years) as Clinton has on either Connecticut or Massachusetts, and also on DC, where he has — first as a Representative and then as Senator — been a regular since 1991 (two years before the Clintons moved into the White House), it has been decided that the Vermont senator has just the one home state. His literal ‘home,’ meanwhile, has gone to Hillary Clinton.

Habitually the press refers to New York as Clinton’s turf. Everyone from the pro-Clinton Washington Post to the Sanders-leaning Guardian describes it as such. The suggestion is that Hillary’s opponent is playing on unfamiliar ground, venturing into some foreign battleground to scrabble for votes as the crucial primary approaches. In reality though, outside of Vermont, there is nowhere other than New York that Sanders could more accurately call home.

Contrary to the idea that Sanders is currently campaigning on enemy terrain, the Senator’s connection to New York is, rather, deep-rooted. Born and raised in Brooklyn like his wife Jane, Sanders was also schooled there, went to college there and began his working life there. He first took an interest in politics in New York, running for student body president at James Madison High School, and in his time there also learned lessons about money (his family had little) and religion (he attended Hebrew school on weekends) that he says came to inform his entire political outlook. Though neither would last, Sanders also began both his first business (a carpentry firm) and his first marriage in New York.

These were Sanders’ formative years; altogether he spent 23 of them calling New York home. Even after buying property in Vermont in 1968, he still continued to live part-time in the Empire State. It was, for a sizable chunk of his life, Bernie Sanders’ own. Today, you can still hear the New York in what Margaret Talbot calls Sanders’ “unreconstructed borough growl.” Sure, he may not know how the subway works anymore — but then neither does Hillary Clinton, whose home state we’re so frequently told this is.

Clinton has said that she simply “knows the state a lot better” than Sanders, and there’s a good argument for that. Clinton has held residence in New York for 17 years, and has visited every single one of its counties during her time campaigning there. She has a home in Chappaqua, an office in Manhattan and a campaign HQ in Brooklyn. It’s the reason that Clinton is in New York in the first place, however, that has proven contentious for some. To those people, there’s another argument: that Clinton only decided to show an interest in New York at the point that it became politically advantageous.

Sanders’ latest New York ad refers to him as a “native son” with “values forged in New York.” (It’s half the truth: Sanders’ values were also ‘forged’ at the University of Chicago, where he was active in the Civil Rights movement, and in Vermont, where he’s built a political career over the past four decades.) Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, didn’t come to New York until there was an opening for her to run for the senate there. That polls initially showed New York voters were uneasy about what looked to them like a parachute candidacy is the reason Clinton almost didn’t go there at all. Meanwhile, that Clinton’s ties are strongest with one area of NYC in particular is the reason why some believe she lacks a connection to the average New Yorker, a connection that Sanders with his working-class Brooklyn background arguably has.

So, who has the truest claim on New York in this race? Well, for many New Yorkers there’s only one answer to that question: Donald Trump. While Bernie Sanders was born there and left, and Hillary Clinton moved there for political reasons and stayed, the Republican frontrunner has spent almost all of his 69 years in New York. A poll this week revealed that, out of all the 2016 presidential candidates, Trump is thought of by New York voters as the “true New Yorker.” He took 41% of their vote.

According to that same poll, on the Democratic side Bernie Sanders comes out on top as the real New Yorker, barely, with 25% of the vote to Clinton’s 23%. Subjective though the concept of the home state may be, in the eyes of the New York public Bernie Sanders has a slight edge over Hillary Clinton when it comes to having reason to call the state ‘home,’ but Donald Trump overwhelmingly beats them both. But the one of them that best represents “New York Values,” much discussed during this election, remains up for debate.