Florida 8th District
Who would have supposed 40 years ago that the most popular tourist destination in the world would rise amid the swamps and orange groves of central Florida? The answer: Walt Disney, and just about no one else. In the mid-1960s, Disney looked at the map and decided that the intersection of Interstate 4 and Florida’s Turnpike, the “crossroads of Florida,” just a few miles southwest of Orlando, was the perfect place for the vast theme park he was planning. The spirit of this place was established by a man who never lived here but created something now taken for granted. Disney conceived the first theme park in Orange County, Calif., in 1955, but he perfected it in the 17,000 acres of Florida swamp that his associates stealthily snapped up and where Walt Disney World opened in 1971. With the invention of the theme park, Disney also pioneered sophisticated communications, utility, and waste-disposal methods—all out of sight and underground. Disney World is not just an engineering marvel. It requires some 56,000 people with know-how and earnest cheerfulness to entertain its 40 million-plus visitors annually. But it is hardly the only site that has made Orlando one of the world’s great tourist destinations. Other popular theme parks here include Sea World and Universal Studios; Cape Canaveral is less than 40 miles away. The high-tech economy also has moved into Greater Orlando. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has a big missile facility southwest of the city, with more than 6,000 employees. Continuing growth—of the downtown skyline and in the expanding metropolitan region—has spurred what may be uphill efforts to control the sprawl and congestion in one of the nation’s booming areas.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 8th Congressional District of Florida includes parts of Orlando and surrounding Orange County and most of the enormous Disney complex, including the Disney new-urbanist town of Celebration. It includes most of the southeast and southwest parts of Orlando and adjoining suburbs. Heavily African-American areas of central Orlando are in the 3rd District. More than three-quarters of the district’s residents live in Orange County. The rest live in a ribbon of territory to the northwest, past Lake Apopka, in little market towns like Mount Dora and Umatilla in Lake County, which seem insulated from the booming metro area. Around here, turtles, alligators, and river otters go about their lives underneath cypress trees draped with Spanish moss. Nearby is Silver Springs, where tourists can view the world’s largest formation of clear artesian springs from glass-bottomed boats—a theme park from an earlier era. Beyond that is the horse farm country of Marion County, around Ocala. In the 1980s, the Orlando area was heavily Republican, but in the 1990s, it moved perceptibly toward national Democrats. The 8th District was designed to be a Republican district, though it’s not comfortably so. Some 21.5% of its residents are Hispanic, most of them not Cubans, but Puerto Ricans and people from elsewhere in Latin America; many work in the tourism industry. They favored Republican Govs. Jeb Bush in 2002 and Charlie Crist in 2006, and trended toward President Bush in 2004, when he got 55% of the vote. Barack Obama beat John McCain 52%-47%.