The battle for 2020: Possible Democratic presidential nominees
On the campaign trail, Sen. Cory Booker often name-drops his Newark, N.J., neighborhood, noting that he “lives in a community that is below the poverty line.” Pete Buttigieg, now mayor of South Bend where he grew up, has touted his “middle-class lifestyle, in a middle-class neighborhood.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Boston-area transplant, claims family roots in the Oklahoma plains.
As Democratic candidates roll out affordable housing plans and other ideas for tackling wealth inequality, some are emphasizing the modesty of their own lived experience as a symbol of unity with the middle- and lower-income Americans whose votes they’re courting.
The logic behind the message is clear, given the shortage of affordable housing in many parts of the country.
All White House hopefuls can be expected to make an appeal to voters living paycheck-to-paycheck. But some candidates’ claims of living in proximity to middle class struggles rings truer than others. Here, we’ll look at candidates’ residences, a rough proxy for wealth, with special emphasis on those highest in the polls, and members of the U.S. Senate.
The accessibility of public records varies from place to place. Where available, we’ve relied on public records for candidates’ addresses that were confirmed by their campaigns. (Due to security concerns raised by several campaigns, we’re not publishing exact addresses.) We’ve noted instances where campaigns declined to confirm where a candidate lives.
Joe Biden frequently touts his middle class bonafides on the stump — even referring to himself at times as “Middle Class Joe.” Before serving as Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden spent 35 years in the Senate where, he’s noted, “I used to be listed as the poorest man in Congress.”
Biden’s campaign did not respond when we asked them to describe the location of Biden’s residences.
A Washington Post profile found that Biden’s wealth increased by millions since the end of the Obama administration, a result of book deals and speaking fees that fetch as much as $200,000 per appearance.
Biden owns two homes in Delaware, including his primary residence in Wilmington, which the Post describes as a 7,000-square-foot lakeside home. In 2017, Biden purchased a six-bedroom home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. The Post reported that Biden is also currently renting a nearly 12,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home outside Washington in McLean, Va., which the real estate website Zillow.com estimates to charge a monthly rent of $20,000.
Though she campaigns as a champion of America’s economically disadvantaged, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is worth an estimated $7.8 million in 2015, according to the most recent data from the political transparency group Open Secrets.
But some claims about Warren’s wealth have overshot the mark. In 2014, we debunked a meme that falsely claimed she “lives in a $5.4 million mansion.” In truth, her Cambridge, Mass., home, built in 1890 and situated less than two miles north of the Charles River, was worth less than half that at the time of our fact-check; the city now values it at $2.7 million. Warren and her husband, Bruce Mann, bought the 3,700-square foot clapboard Victorian home in 1995 for $447,000.
In 2013, Warren purchased a condo in Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood for $740,000, according to the Washington Post.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., made headlines this year when his tax returns revealed that he’s entered the millionaire class he so often critiques. Sanders and his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, reported more than $2.7 million in income since 2016, most of which was earned from his book “Our Revolution.”
Following Sanders’s insurgent 2016 presidential campaign, the self-described democratic socialist spent nearly $600,000 on a four-bedroom beachfront house on the east side of Lake Champlain, according to the Vermont magazine Seven Days, which described the acquisition as Sanders’s third home.
His campaign did not respond when we asked them to describe Sanders’s residences.
Public records link Sanders to a Burlington, Vt., home, reportedly his primary residence, which the City of Burlington values around $322,000. Sanders also bought a row house on Capitol Hill in 2007, which the District assesses to be worth $595,000.
In a sharp exchange with Biden during the first Democratic primary debate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., described a childhood experience of being bused from her black middle-class neighborhood in Berkeley to a school in the more affluent Berkeley hills.
Those humble beginnings stand in stark contrast to her current residence, reportedly in the posh Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Harris moved into the home around the time she married her husband, attorney Douglas Emhoff.
Harris’s campaign declined to describe her residences, or even confirm her zip code.
A public records search linked Emhoff to a Brentwood home that is currently valued by Los Angeles County at just over $3 million. As is often the case, the expected resale value is higher.
The couple is also connected to an additional residence in Washington’s West End neighborhood, according to Washingtonian.
Among the Democratic field, Pete Buttigieg ranks last on Forbes’ list of candidates’ net worth — something the plainspoken Hoosier has boasted about on the campaign trail.
“I actually live a middle-class lifestyle,” Buttigieg told CNBC earlier this year, “in a middle-class neighborhood, in the American Midwest.”
His campaign confirmed his address in South Bend, Buttigieg’s hometown of around 100,000 people where he has served as mayor since 2012.
Buttigieg and husband Chasten’s 2,480-square-foot, four-bedroom neoclassical home is valued on Zillow at $241,819. Buttigieg bought the property 10 years ago for $125,000. Buttigieg told Vogue his monthly mortgage payment is around $450.
Cory Booker’s campaign announcement mentions that he’s “the only senator who goes home to a low-income, inner-city community” — a claim he’s repeated while campaigning.
His campaign gave us Booker’s address, and the economic status of his neighborhood checks out. The median household income in this census tract is around $15,000, and nearly 45% of residents live below the poverty line. (The poverty line for a family of four is $25,750, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.)
In previous elections, Booker has faced questions about whether he “really” lives in Newark. A Politico profile from earlier this year headlined, “Is Cory Booker for Real?” would seem to lay the questions to rest.
Booker has lived in the poor minority neighborhood for more than two decades, residing for an eight-year stretch on the 16th floor of Brick Towers, which Politico described as a “dilapidated and dangerous housing project in inner-city Newark,” which “often lacked heat, hot water and elevator service.”
In 2011, back when he was mayor of Newark, Booker purchased a townhouse in the same neighborhood for $171,000. It is now valued at $276,500. Booker also rents a basement apartment in Washington, according to New York Magazine.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., grew up in the Minneapolis area, and she continues to reside in the Twin Cities when not in Washington.
She and her husband, attorney John Bessler, own a 2,200-square-foot townhouse in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood of Minneapolis, near the University of Minnesota. The county assessor values the property at $302,500. The couple purchased their home in 1996 for $168,900.
The median household income in Klobuchar’s neighborhood is $36,000, and around one in four residents are considered to live below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data.
On the campaign trail, Gillibrand has focused attention on her small-town roots.
“I really appreciate being in a rural place. I’m from a rural place. I grew up in a rural place,” she told the New York Times. “I represented a rural place for Congress.”
Rather than locate her campaign headquarters in bustling New York City, she opted instead for Troy, N.Y., her primary residence, according to public records. Gillibrand and her husband, Jonathan, bought their five-bedroom, 3,400-square-foot house there in 2011 for $335,000.
The median household income in Gillibrand’s neighborhood is around $94,000.