California 45th District
From the air three decades ago, a night flight east from Los Angeles flew over the lights of homes of 10 million people and then into almost perfect darkness. The city then was a vast metropolis surrounded by almost uninhabited territory. Today the sprinkled pattern of white lights has spread into the Inland Empire around Riverside and San Bernardino and is multiplying outward into the desert. The Inland Empire has filled up with instant towns like family-oriented Moreno Valley, which did not exist in 1980 but had 189,000 people in 2007. Over the 10,000-foot San Jacinto Mountains, desert communities have boomed: Palm Springs was once the lone winter resort for the stars but now is popular for its retro architecture and as a destination for gays. It is one of a string of communities along Highway 111 and Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope drives. Among rich retirees, the coast’s cachet lessened as beach cities filled up with roller bladers and rent-control crusaders. The clean, dry, roomy desert, where the days are almost always crystal clear and the sky usually blue and cloudless, became more attractive and, with the prevalence of air-conditioning, a comfortable year-round home. Two presidents retired to the desert here: Dwight Eisenhower, who wintered in Palm Desert, and Gerald Ford, who resided for 30 years after his presidency in nearby Rancho Mirage. Rancho Mirage is called the “playground of presidents” not for its connection to Ford, but rather for the corporate executives who retire or keep second homes there. The population is nearly 300,000 for the entire desert corridor if the count includes Indio and Coachella, the heavily Latino and fast-growing cities in the agricultural Coachella Valley. The valley has 75% of the country’s date palms and features camel races at its annual festival. Rolling Stone magazine called the launch of the annual music festival in Coachella one of the 50 greatest moments in rock history.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 45th Congressional District of California covers almost all of the desert in Riverside County, from Blythe on the Nevada border to Palm Springs. Joshua Tree National Park, with its high-desert sands, is a popular tourist spot (it’s shared with the 41st District, though most of it is in the 45th), and real estate values are growing in nearby towns. About half the district’s population lives west of the 10,000-foot peak that looms above Palm Springs, in fast-growing Moreno Valley, socially conservative Murrieta and the old town of Hemet. This area has grown 28% since 2000. Hispanics contributed much of that growth and now make up 41% of the district’s population. It has tended to vote Republican, but in 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won the district by an unexpectedly comfortable 52%-47%.