Massachusetts 5th District
The Merrimack River Valley at the northern edge of Massachusetts has had an erratic history: High-tech boom, bust, boom, bust, boom. When Massachusetts was a kind of maritime republic in the 19th century, with its farmers struggling to scratch out a living from the stony soil, a few clever Yankees used their profits from the sea trade to try to tame the rapidly flowing Merrimack and build cotton-spinning mills. Creating the cities of Lowell and Lawrence, they built model dormitories and recreation programs for their female workers. This was the center of America’s textile industry for more than a century, long after the maritime industry faded. But in the 1920s, the price of labor rose and newly built mills in the Carolinas, much closer to the cotton supply, decimated the industry that Lawrence and Lowell built. Many residents, by then rather elderly, waited forlornly for an upturn in the local economy.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
It came eventually, largely from an unexpected source. High-tech industry drove the growth, beginning in the 1960s around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then moving out to the Route 128 ring road and eventually to Interstate 495, which passes through Lowell and Lawrence. Wang, headquartered in Lowell, grew spectacularly, and Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas—the local kid who made it big before his early death to cancer—spearheaded a national historic restoration of the old mill area. This was the Massachusetts miracle of the 1980s. Then came the bust: Sales of Wang’s word processors and minicomputers slumped as businesses purchased personal computers and linked them together in networks. But Lowell revived again. Its new immigrants provide vitality and entrepreneurial creativity. Cambodians own many small businesses and are nearly one-fifth of the local population, making Lowell second only to Long Beach, Calif. as a home for transplanted Cambodians in the United States. The first Spanish-language daily newspaper in New England began here in September 2008. The old Wang buildings are filled with health care, banking, telecommunications, and Internet companies, plus fledgling green-energy industries. Old mills have been converted to artists’ lofts and upscale condos. The Tsongas Arena is home to a professional hockey team.
The 5th Congressional District of Massachusetts includes Lawrence and Lowell, which, along with a handful of nearby towns, account for about two-thirds of the district’s population. The remainder of the district is the high-tech corridor south along I-495. The district also includes the tony suburbs near the Revolutionary War battleground of Concord, where the Minutemen stood their ground in 1775; the mountains along the New Hampshire state line; and the small towns west of Lowell. Fort Devens, which closed in 1996, is now a training site for members of the New England Army Reserve and National Guard. Except for Lowell and Lawrence, the district is ancestrally Yankee Republican. It is culturally liberal, with pockets of big wealth, and it trended Democratic in the early 1970s. Back then, the 5th District produced two Democratic candidates who would later run for president: Tsongas and John Kerry. In the 1980s and early 1990s, amid the high-tech boom, it went Republican in national and some statewide elections. In 1992, it gave Bill Clinton his lowest percentage in the state, while a big portion of the vote went to high-tech pioneer Ross Perot, the Texan who formed his own political party. But its cultural liberalism has moved it toward the Democrats, though not as far as some Massachusetts districts: Al Gore carried the 5th District 57%-36% in 2000, Kerry 57%-41% in 2004, and Barack Obama 59%-39% in 2008.