California 44th District
Riverside was a sleepy town of 34,000 people, a couple hours’ drive from Los Angeles, when Richard and Pat Nixon were married there in 1940 at the Mission Inn, originally built in 1876 and adorned with bell towers, fountains, rotunda, and stained-glass windows. Riverside was not much larger, with 46,000 people, when Ronald and Nancy Reagan spent their honeymoon at the Mission Inn a dozen years later, in 1952. Riverside then was a citrus center, a market town amid orange groves, where the local agricultural college developed, among other things, the navel orange. Today the Mission Inn is again doing business, after being closed from 1985 to 1992, but Riverside has changed completely. The city has grown to 294,000 people, and Riverside County, now has over 2 million, more than double its population in 1980. Much of that growth came in the Inland Empire around Riverside, where the flat Los Angeles Basin plains are interrupted by oddly shaped hills and ridges. This has been a boom part of California, where modest-income families found new houses in inexpensive developments and small businesses expanded mightily. After being hit hard by the recession of the early 1990s, it rebounded strongly. Near Moreno Valley, the former March Air Force Base became a business park and regional hub for shipping giant DHL. But the recent recession has halted that progress. The region’s unemployment rate in November 2008 was the highest in the nation among large metropolitan areas, and it had a high level of home foreclosures during the housing-credit crisis. DHL announced in 2008 that it was closing its domestic-delivery business and leaving Riverside. On the upside, the University of California announced plans that year for a new medical school in Riverside.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 44th Congressional District of California, which covers much of this area, has been one of the fastest-growing congressional districts in the nation in the past two decades; from 2000 to 2007, it grew another 26%. Much of the increase was in the Hispanic population, which went from 35% to 42% of the total. Some 40% of district residents live in the city of Riverside and most others in nearby towns like Corona and Norco, the self-proclaimed Horsetown USA and the home of a Naval Surface Warfare Center, which evaluates weapons systems. In 2005, the Pentagon recommended closing the base, which would have resulted in a loss of 3,300 local jobs. But the base-closure commission decided to save the base and build a new lab there. The district includes the eastern edge of Orange County all the way to the ocean, much of it uninhabited mountainsides. But it also takes in San Clemente, where President Nixon lived after he resigned the presidency, and half of San Juan Capistrano, to which the swallows famously return every March. This has been a solidly Republican district, where President George W. Bush won 59%-40% in 2004. However, Democrat Barack Obama did unexpectedly well in 2008, edging out Republican John McCain in the presidential contest, 49.5%-48.6%. Obama won the Riverside portion of the district by more than 13,000 votes, while McCain led in Orange County by nearly 11,000 votes. Local Republicans blamed the shift on the region’s high unemployment and foreclosure rates.