Florida 15th District
When Cape Canaveral was chosen as the nation’s rocket testing site in the 1940s, there were only 20,000 people in all of Brevard County, which stretches along 63 miles of the coast north and south of the Cape. It was reliant economically on fishing and citrus-growing, and chosen because it was on the sunny Atlantic coast. Rockets could be launched eastward so that spent parts fell into the ocean. In 1948, the Brooklyn Dodgers (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) established their spring training home in Vero Beach, 60 miles south of Canaveral in Indian River County. Their training facilities were affably nicknamed Dodgertown, but Jim Crow segregation laws remained in place through the mid-1950s, until Dodger executives used an ingenious method to flex their economic muscle in the service of integration: They stamped the team’s name on 20,000 dollar bills and told players and reporters to spend them freely at local establishments. Local officials got the message, easing off enforcement of segregation, at least when Jackie Robinson and his teammates were in town. Today, the region has come a long way. Brevard County has 536,521 people, and the Kennedy Space Center attracts 1.5 million visitors annually. The county has no city center but plenty of shopping centers along strip highways, with a white-collar, service economy, knitted together by interest in the space program. But the scheduled retirement of the space shuttle in 2010 threatens the local economy, as NASA estimates that as many as 4,500 shuttle-related jobs could be lost at the center. Development in other areas has continued to be strong. Proximity to Disney World has spawned growth in the cruise line business, and Port Canaveral is the second-largest passenger port in the world. And Vero Beach lost the Dodgers. The team held its last spring training there in 2008 before moving to Glendale, Ariz. in 2009.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 15th Congressional District of Florida includes much, but not all, of the 72-mile Space Coast; the area code here is 321. Its northern end is at Cape Canaveral itself, but most of the space center facilities, including the visitors’ center, are in the 24th District. It runs south along the Atlantic Coast and includes 75% of Brevard County and all of Indian River County. Among the bigger towns are Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, Palm Bay, and Vero Beach. To the west, the district includes all but a small piece of Osceola County; the population there is just south of Disney World and concentrated around Kissimmee and St. Cloud. This is the fastest-growing part of the district, with a rapidly increasing Puerto Rican and Latino population. The district also includes the northern tip of Polk County. The population there is a mix of young workers and retirees, plus military families stationed at Patrick Air Force Base, home of the 45th Space Wing.
Politically, the district leans Republican. In 2004, the Bush campaign worked intensively on outreach to the new Latino voters in Osceola County and won the county 52%-47%, after losing it four years earlier. Brevard remains Republican too, but it is becoming less so. Republican Charlie Crist got 54% there in his successful 2006 governor’s race. Republican John McCain won the district in 2008 with 51% of the vote to Democrat Barack Obama’s 48%.