Florida 9th District
Half a century ago, the land north of St. Petersburg and Tampa was scarcely inhabited. Behind the barrier island of beaches, the land along the Gulf shore was swampy. Further inland was dense, semitropical forest spotted with lakes. Over the years, development has moved up the coast and inland via the major highways, first to Clearwater and Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County and then up the once-empty coast of Pasco County. Much of this area originally was designed for retirees, offering everything from condominiums to garden apartments to trailer parks. In 2000, Clearwater, in Pinellas County north of St. Petersburg, had a higher percentage of senior citizens than any other city over 100,000. It also has the spiritual headquarters of the Church of Scientology, which has transformed the city’s downtown by redeveloping a dozen buildings, transforming five waterfront acres into a luxury condominium complex and building a 384,000-square-foot religious center. There are about 12,000 Scientologists in the city. Before the recession hit in 2007, businesses were sprouting in northern Pinellas County and inland off the Interstate 75 corridor. Nearly half of Pasco County’s workers commute to jobs in other counties. The people who settled here in recent decades brought their ancestral political beliefs with them. In the 1950s and 1960s, only white-collar retirees could afford to buy new places in Florida, and they were heavily Republican. As Florida retirements became more feasible for people with modest incomes in the 1970s and 1980s, the partisan balance shifted toward Democrats. In the 1990s, young immigrants with professional and technical backgrounds flooded the area. Their political independence has turned this into one of Florida’s most politically marginal areas. In 2004, Republican organizers brought out a lot of new voters, many of them Christian conservatives. Republican President Bush won the district that year with 57%. Four years later, Democrat Barack Obama’s campaign worked to increase turnout in this area, which was vital to his statewide win in Florida. In Hillsborough, Obama got nearly 59,000 more votes than Democrat John Kerry had in 2004, while Republican John McCain got 9,000 votes less than Bush in 2004. John McCain narrowly won the district with 52%.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 9th Congressional District of Florida covers an area north of St. Petersburg and north and east of Tampa. It includes the string of towns on the coast of Pasco County—Holiday, New Port Richey, Bayonet Point, and Hudson. In Pinellas County to the south, the 9th includes Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, an old resort first settled by Greek sponge divers a century ago, the affluent neighborhoods of East Lake, the young commuter families of Oldsmar, and the bayside community of Safety Harbor. The district also includes the northern Tampa suburbs in Hillsborough County and much of the eastern part of the county, including part of strawberry-growing Plant City (named not for plants but for Tampa pioneer Henry B. Plant). The area produces 90% of Florida’s strawberry yield. From 2000 to 2007, the geographically confined Pinellas had a net loss of 4,000 people, while the more spacious Hillsborough gained 176,000, up 18%. Also noteworthy, the share of senior citizens in the district dropped from 20.5% to 17.5%. The vote in the district is distributed among Hillsborough, with about 45%, Pinellas, with 30%, and Pasco, with 25%.