California 4th District
California sprang into existence with the Gold Rush of 1849. Statehood and the creation of the first 27 counties followed in 1850. The new state’s first boom area was the Mother Lode Country in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains above Sacramento. Mining camps the size of Eastern cities grew up almost overnight in vacant valleys locked amid steep hills, with thousands of would-be millionaires gathered to find gold, though most of those who actually got rich did so by providing goods and services that catered to miners’ needs. In Placerville, John Studebaker had a buggy shop, Phillip Armour ran a butcher shop, and Mark Hopkins had a dry goods store. The biggest mine in California was in Grass Valley in 1857 and was worked for half a century. But long before that, most of the Mother Lode Country emptied out, leaving ghost towns and villages with hundreds of deserted houses, an antique vacation country left behind in time.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
When local residents celebrated the sesquicentennial, the area had been resurrected as a booming exurban and tourist mecca. “The American River near Coloma becomes a virtual freeway of whooping rafters on summer weekends,” wrote USA Today. “The Mother Lode also offers modern-day prospectors an intriguing pastiche of bed-and-breakfast inns, musty antique stores and such blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em outposts as Volcano, Fiddletown, Rough and Ready.” Thousands of Californians—many of them families from smog-filled, middle-class suburbs of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Francisco Bay Area—went looking for a more pleasant, small-town, orderly environment, and found it along fast-flowing creeks where the ’49ers camped. Placer County, which includes Sacramento suburbs and part of the Mother Lode Country, grew 34% from 2000 to 2007 and was among the fastest-growing counties in California. It also has the highest percentage of registered Republicans in the state and ranks among its most wealthy counties. On Lake Tahoe, Truckee has grown with the development of ski resorts. Politically, this growth has changed the Mother Lode Country from Democratic to Republican. In 1976, nine Mother Lode counties from Sierra to Mariposa cast 118,000 votes and voted 50%-47% for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. In 2004, they cast 370,000 votes and voted 61% for George W. Bush, and in 2008, they cast 445,000 votes and backed John McCain over Barack Obama, 54%-44%. California as a whole favored Obama over McCain 61%-37%. The culture here could not be more different from that of the Bay Area, less than 50 miles away.
The 4th Congressional District of California consists of the northern half of the Mother Lode Country and the Placer County suburbs of Sacramento, plus a small slice of Sacramento County. It extends north through thinly populated mountain counties like Modoc, site of a World War II detention facility for Japanese-Americans. Modoc County shares a border with Oregon and Nevada. Most residents live within the Interstate 80 corridor, clustered near Sacramento in suburbs like Roseville, the district’s most populous city, which grew 34% from 2000 to 2006 and has plans to build a large private university. Some 33% of district residents live in areas classified as rural, the largest percentage of the state’s 53 districts.