Can Hillary Be a New York Senator?

The talk won’t stop that Hillary Clinton may run for the Senate in 2000–from New York, a state where she has never lived. Is that allowed? Does it ever happen?

Short answer: yes. The Constitution says only that a senator must be 1) 30 years old; 2) a U.S. citizen for nine years; and 3) “an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” The Supreme Court has ruled that the states must accept as an “inhabitant” anyone who has lived in the state for 30 days before the election. New York, though, is especially lax on the residency requirement. A candidate must only have a New York residence on the day of the election. For instance, Hillary could rent a hotel room on November 7, 2000 to qualify as a bona fide New Yorker. At that point she could move to D.C.

New York actually has a tradition of electing out-of-staters. Bobby Kennedy won in 1964 and James Buckley–from Connecticut, and, yes, brother to William F–won in 1970. Way back in 1788, Massachusetts’ delegate to the Constitutional Convention–a fellow named Rufus King–moved to New York and became Senator that very same year.

It would undoubtedly strike many as odd for Hillary to campaign in New York while still living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.. But there’s a tradition to that as well. George Bush claimed to be a Texas resident while vice-President and president because he stayed in a Houston hotel once or twice a year. Meanwhile he actually lived in D.C. and spent as much time as possible at his very large home in Maine. His reasons were not solely political: Texas has no income tax. Money estimates that Bush saved almost 11 percent of his income as a result of his alleged Texas residency.

Gary Trudeau immortalized this arrangement in his Doonesbury comic strip here and here.

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Explainer thanks Michael Barone of U.S. News and World Report and Ken Rudin of National Public Radio.