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Do Virginia Voters Show Preference For Native Sons?

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The birthplace of both of Virginia's major gubernatorial candidates has become an issue, but neither is from the commonwealth.
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The birthplace of both of Virginia's major gubernatorial candidates has become an issue, but neither is from the commonwealth.

In Virginia's gubernatorial race this year, Republicans and Democrats are trying to cast their respective candidates as the better representative of residents in the Commonwealth, even though neither candidate was born there. Looking back at history, Virginia voters have not been wedded to the idea of being represented by native sons or daughters.

Virginia delegation anything but native

The founding fathers considered place or geography to be vital to democracy. They apportioned representatives in the House based onthe population in each community so they could act as a conduit between citizens and their government. But of Virginia's thirteen-member congressional delegation, only two House members were born in the commonwealth, and neither senator hails from Virginia soil.

"We are a transient place, you know that kind of native soil candidate changed long ago because of the changing face of Virginia," says Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

Connolly was born in New England. Democratic Congressman Jim Moran grew up in the same town, after being born in Buffalo. As Moran explains what drew him to northern Virginia, his voice offers a clue to his home town.

"I spent 10 years working for the Nixon administration, and then I was the senior specialist for budgetary and fiscal policy at the Library of Congress, and then I worked for the Senate Appropriations staff before running for local office in Alexandria," Moran says.

That Boston accent is especially strong when Moran gets into heated floor debates. His background as a civil servant gives him firsthand knowledge of many of the issues he faces as a Northern Virginia lawmaker, but Moran says his 40+ years in the state has also established a new set of roots for his family.

"All my kids and grandkids are in Virginia, so I feel a connection," Moran says. "Life is about personal relationships and most of my personal relationships are in Northern Virginia."

While Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith was born in Philadelphia, he says one side of his family has been in Virginia since the 1600s.

"They just happened to be out of state at the time of my birth," Griffith says. "And as the old saying goes, I got it from John Warner, I chose to be near my mother at the time of my birth."

When Senator Tim Kaine, also a former governor, is asked how he ended up in the commonwealth, he offers a quick response.

"My wife," Kaine says. "How do men get to interesting places? That their spouses are better negotiators?"

Some native sons remain

You have to go back to the 1990s, when Republican John Gilmore served, to find a Virginia governor actually born in the commonwealth.

The two Virginia Congressmen actually born in the state are Republicans Randy Forbes and Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader. Forbes lights up when talking about living on his grandfather's old property. Still, he's not knocking his colleagues born elsewhere.

"I am very proud to have been born in Virginia and live in Virginia, but we also appreciate very much individuals who choose and elect to make Virginia their home," Forbes says.

And Forbes says Virginia has also helped develop leaders who serve elsewhere.

"I think Virginia has always historically been core values of the country," Forbes says. "If you look throughout our history, we have played a major role in helping to create a lot of these other states, and creating individuals who would go be leaders in other states. So maybe it's only fitting that they would decide to come back and make Virginia their home."

In Virginia's heated governor's race this year, voters have a choice: New Jersey-born Republican Ken Cuccinelli or New York-born Democrat Terry McAuliffe. If history and current representation are any indicators, Virginia voters don't really mind where their representatives were born.

As for where their hearts lie, now that's another question entirely.

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