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While factors like partisanship are increasingly decisive in congressional elections, they do not fully explain variation in constituency support between similarly situated incumbents. I argue that legislators’ reelection success is also influenced by the depth of their local, pre-Congress roots in the district they represent. I theorize that this local connection offers practical advantages to incumbents, such as built-in grassroots political infrastructure in their districts. Shared local identity also allows legislators to relate to their voters on a dimension that is uniquely suited to cross-cut partisanship and qualify them to represent their particular constituents. Therefore, I argue that local roots outperform their district’s partisan expectations – and more specifically, their party’s presidential nominees. Using an original dataset of nearly 3,000 House incumbents from 2002 to 2018 and novel measures of their preexisting local roots in their districts, I find that deeply rooted incumbents outperform their party’s presidential nominees in their districts by an average of about five additional points, even after controlling for partisanship and other crucial factors. I also find that this impact grows as the depth of local roots among a district’s voters increases. These results indicate that even in an era of congressional politics largely defined by partisanship and presidential loyalty, dyadic district connections like local ties can break through and affect legislators’ standing among their constituents.

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This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Congress & the Presidency on 2021, available online: