Florida 1st District
The “Redneck Riviera” is the affectionate local name for the Gulf Coast beaches of Florida’s Panhandle, stretching from Pensacola east to Destin. This has been military country ever since John Quincy Adams persuaded Spain to sell Florida to the United States in 1819 with the goal of getting the port of Pensacola. In October 1861, the Union defeated the Confederates in a battle to control Santa Rosa Island, the outermost spit of land protecting Pensacola Bay. (A quarter century later, the site of that clash, Fort Pickens, became Apache warrior Geronimo’s prison.) In the 20th century, the Pensacola Naval Air Station was turned into the nation’s first naval-aviation training base, giving birth to carrier aviation. Today, about 20,000 people are employed at Eglin Air Force Base, which spreads over three counties and, with approximately 100,000 square miles of airspace stretching over the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Keys, is considered the largest air base in the free world. Eglin developed the BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter” bomb that was used in Afghanistan, and it was the test site for the largest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal, the 21,000-pound ordnance that is dropped from the rear of a C-130 cargo plane and is referred to as the “Mother of All Bombs.” Base realignment was expected to add more than 4,000 troops and 100 F-35 jet fighters to Eglin by 2011.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The western panhandle of Florida is closer to Houston than to Miami, and is culturally part of Dixie. A columnist for the Pensacola News Journal once recommended the creation of an independent commonwealth of West Florida. “We don’t have much in common with the people inhabiting what I call peninsular Florida,” wrote Jerry Maygarden. “I’m convinced that the further south you drive, the further north you get.” Until recently, the panhandle was economically backward and heavily dependent on the military. As the South has become more prosperous, the shore has attracted vacationing and retiring Southerners to its vast, fine-grained white sand beaches and its pleasant inlet-dotted bays. It also has become a leading spring-break destination for college students and the site of a large annual gay Memorial Day weekend party. The region has long been culturally and economically conservative, with a strong pro-military bent.
The 1st Congressional District of Florida is so far west, it’s in the Central time zone. Pensacola’s Escambia County, where about half the district’s people live, is the state’s westernmost county. The time-zone issue became a sore point in 2000, when television network news announced that Florida’s polls had closed at 7 p.m. Eastern time, though they were still open in the Panhandle, and then declared Al Gore the winner of Florida’s electoral votes 10 minutes before the Panhandle’s polls had closed. In the absence of that misinformation, a few thousand votes might have been cast for George W. Bush here and made the whole Florida recount controversy unnecessary. The district’s shoreline runs from Pensacola, adjoining the Alabama border, through Fort Walton Beach to the west side of Destin. Inland, the 1st stretches farther east, taking in rural Walton, Holmes and Washington counties. The population here has grown steadily, with young civilians, not just military retirees, moving in and shifting attention to education and quality-of-life issues. In 2004, four massive hurricanes roared through the region, with devastating effect. In Pensacola alone, 45,000 homes were deemed unlivable. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina also left its mark here. With the most military veterans of any district in the nation, the 1st District is strongly Republican. It voted 69%-31% for George W. Bush in 2000 and 72%-28% in 2004, his best numbers in the state. John McCain, likewise, had his best Florida showing in this district, with a 67%-32% lead over Barack Obama.