California 19th District
The city of Fresno started as a farm-marketing center—one high-income neighborhood is called Fig Garden because that’s what it used to be—and as a tourist rest stop on the way to Yosemite National Park. But it has long since grown out north, east, and west from its old downtown, and its economy has diversified. Like all of the Central Valley, Fresno has always been ethnically diverse, with a telephone book that reads like the United Nations directory. It is home to the second-largest Armenian community in the U.S. (only Los Angeles surpasses it). Its already large Latino population has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and Fresno County was 48% Hispanic in 2007. Asians, including Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Hmong, were 9% of the county’s population. The city has grown 10% since 2000, despite some serious problems: high unemployment, violent teenage gangs, and air pollution that made the Sierra Nevadas invisible on many days. Fresno has had some success addressing those problems, but the poverty rate remains high. Among the nation’s largest cities, it ranks 16th in poverty level. Tighter border patrolling has encouraged illegal Mexican immigrants to remain in Fresno County year-round, even during the off-season for farmwork. Migrants have been crowding into trailers and makeshift homes on formerly vacant farmland. The growing Hispanic presence has increased the popularity of the Spanish charreadas, which are part-rodeo and part-fiesta and are not advertised to the general public. Historically, Fresno was a Democratic town, the prime Democratic bastion in the Central Valley south of Sacramento. Since the 1990s, it has moved toward the Republicans. It voted for George W. Bush twice and for Republican gubernatorial candidates in 1998 and 2002. But in 2008, Barack Obama narrowly won the county, 50%-48%.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 19th Congressional District of California includes nearly half of Fresno, the relatively affluent north side of the city, and the farm towns of Madera County. This area is one of the two heavily populated parts of the district. The other, nearly 100 miles away, is the northern and eastern half of Stanislaus County, including the northern edge of Modesto and towns like Turlock, Riverbank, and Oakdale. These two areas are linked by mountainous Mariposa and Tuolumne counties, which include the Sierra foothills, the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas, and Yosemite National Park.