Connecticut 2nd District
One of the longest-settled parts of the United States, eastern Connecticut has experienced great, and sometimes painful, change in recent years—change comparable to that of the 1640s or 1810s or 1950s. When the Puritan settlers from Massachusetts and England arrived, these flinty hills were the home of small Indian tribes, whose numbers were decimated by warfare and even more by disease. This was never fertile farming country, but New London and Norwich were among the 13 Colonies’ leading workshops and ports. (Norwich was the home of Samuel Huntington, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and the president of the Continental Congress in 1781, when the nation officially was named the United States of America.) Factories developed around mills in little villages on the fast-flowing Quinebaug and Shetucket rivers. Sandbars kept oceangoing ships out of the rivers, but they docked at New London. In the mid-20th century, new technology shaped the area. Four nuclear power plants were built here, more than in any similarly populated part of the United States. In Groton, the “Submarine Capital of the World” across the Thames River from New London, is General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Company, which built its first submarines in 1915 and later, nuclear submarines.
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In the 1990s, the local economy was in trouble. Nuclear plants were wearing out and being shut down across the country. After the end of the Cold War, many in the Electric Boat workforce were laid off, though some remained to work on the next-generation Virginia-class submarine. About 10,000 are employed at both the Groton and Rhode Island facilities today. Even with the Navy’s December 2008 announcement of a $14 billion contract for additional production, the port’s long-term survival is in doubt. The area’s economic base shifted to entertainment, specifically to gambling. The Foxwoods Casino, built by the 650-member Mashantucket Pequot tribe and opened in 1992, is the largest casino in the world, with hotels, golf courses, and a convention center. In 2008, Foxwoods completed a $700 million expansion. It is now the largest employer in Connecticut. Eight miles away, near Norwich, is the Mohegan Sun casino, the second largest casino in the world, which opened in 1996. Gambling now provides more tax dollars to the state than any insurance or defense company. But competition from nearby states is slowing the growth of gaming in the area. New London has taken steps to become a cruise-ship destination.
The 2nd Congressional District of Connecticut includes most of the eastern part of the state, centering on the small cities of New London and Norwich and including mill towns and the University of Connecticut in Storrs. The northeastern edge of Windham County, long known as Quiet Corner for its small towns and dairy farms, has lured away many Rhode Island and Massachusetts residents looking to escape high taxes and housing prices. The district stretches west to the outskirts of Hartford and to antique-filled small towns like Essex and Old Lyme on Long Island Sound. For many years, this was a politically marginal district, with close battles between Yankee Republicans and Catholic Democrats. More recently, it has trended Democratic and has become volatile.