Florida 2nd District
Tallahassee is a small city in the middle of swampy lowlands, the opposite of the image people have the typical booming Florida city, with endless miles of beach or a Magic Kingdom beckoning vacationing families or snowbirds from elsewhere. So how did Tallahassee become the capital of the nation’s fourth-largest state? The answer is, it was chosen back when Florida’s modest population lived mostly along the state’s northern tier, placing Tallahassee, more or less, at the state’s center of gravity. Ralph Waldo Emerson, visiting Tallahassee in the 19th century, called it a “grotesque place, rapidly settled by public officers, land speculators and desperadoes.” Today the countryside around Tallahassee is distinctly Dixie: cotton fields, soft pine stands, catfish farms, small towns with big churches. Until recently, Tallahassee was little more than a Spanish-mossed county seat with a pair of universities and a handsome Creole capitol, built in 1845 and preserved opposite its 1977 skyscraper replacement. Since the 1980s, it has spread out and become a middling-sized city, with a tight-knit and sometimes fractious political and legal elite, bringing a taste of newly urbanized Florida to the state’s north. Tallahassee has not yet attained the critical mass of Sacramento, Austin or Albany, but perhaps it is on its way as the state continues to expand and diversify and its Legislature inches closer to professional status. In 2007, Moody’s business-vitality index ranked the city 35th among the nation’s 379 metro areas.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Florida is centered on Tallahassee, and extends along the Gulf coast west to Destin and east to the Suwanee River, which empties into the Gulf in the only part of Florida where the beach is still undeveloped. Inland, the 2nd runs north to the Alabama and Georgia borders, and far enough east to be within an hour’s drive of Jacksonville. Historically, this was Democratic country, as in Jeffersonian and segregationist. Today, it is still mostly Democratic, though for different reasons. More than one in three Tallahassee-area jobs are in city and state government, three times the statewide level. The city’s African-American population grew from about 25% into the 1990s to 32% in 2007. The district includes Gadsden County, the state’s only black-majority county. Growth is spreading south into Wakulla County, which grew 30% from 2000 to 2007. There is similar growth along the beach areas near Destin, which have attracted affluent families to “new urbanist” communities like Seaside and Rosemary Beach. For all this recent growth, this remains the part of Florida with the highest percentage of native Floridians. The town of Panama City Beach (separate from Panama City) is “cheerfully demotic, vulgar even,” wrote the Washington Post in 2008, and reminiscent of “the old Florida of cheap and tacky fun.”
Tallahassee and Leon County have voted solidly for Democratic presidential nominees in recent elections. Beyond Leon County, which casts about 40% of the district’s votes, partisan performance is less predictable. Gadsden County is heavily Democratic, while the Gulf beach areas tend to be Republican. The 2d District voted twice for George W. Bush, but in 2002 it gave a hefty margin to Democrat Bill McBride over Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who was disliked by most public-employee unions, and in 2006, GOP Gov. Charlie Crist also struggled here. He lost only eight of 67 counties statewide, but three of them—Gadsden, Leon and Jefferson—were in the 2nd District. John McCain beat Barack Obama 54%-45% in the district.