Florida 13th District
When the Ringling Brothers made a success of the circus they founded in the 1880s, they needed a place for performers and animals to rest during the winter months. They settled on the bayfront village of Sarasota, located behind a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico. It was just far enough north to be reachable by railroad and just far enough south to be semitropical so the elephants would stay healthy. Here, on the calm Sarasota Bay, John Ringling established the Ringling Museum of Art, a huge sculpture garden, and his own Venetian palace, the Ca’d’Zan. Next door, his brother, Charles, built a pair of neoclassical revival mansions in pink Georgia marble, which are now part of New College of Florida. After World War II, the balmy Gulf Coast attracted new settlers—affluent, well-educated Republicans from upper-crust suburbs in the North. The population exploded. Manatee and Sarasota counties grew from 63,000 in 1950 to 732,000 in 2007. This part of Florida is no longer a winter community for snowbirds from the North. It has generated its own economy, one with as much vitality and diversity as the places from which its residents have come. In 2007, Money magazine ranked Sarasota as the 7th best city “to retire young.”
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 13th Congressional District of Florida runs from just below Tampa Bay to Charlotte Harbor, north of Fort Myers. It includes all of Sarasota County, which accounts for just over half the district’s population. It takes in all of lightly populated, rural DeSoto and Hardee counties, most of Manatee County to the north and an adjoining sliver of Charlotte County to the south. Idyllic beachfronts beautify the barrier islands, from sleepy Anna Maria down through pricey Longboat Key and Lido Key to more casual Siesta Key. The bayfront area, along the Intracoastal Waterway, is lined with high-rises and often clogged with traffic from Bradenton to Sarasota. Below that, Venice—established in 1920 as a speculative land venture by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers—sits directly on the Gulf of Mexico. Though some high-tech firms diversify the economy, the district as a whole remains a place of tourists and well-off retirees: 26% of its population is 65 and older, and it has 195,000 Social Security recipients, the second highest level of all congressional districts in Florida. For many years, the 13th District was heavily Republican, and it remains that way in party registration. But like the affluent northern suburbs from which so many of its voters came, it trended toward the Democrats in the 1990s. George W. Bush carried this district, but with just 54% of the vote in 2000 and 56% in 2004. In 2008, Republican John McCain won the district, 52%-47%, over Barack Obama.