Nevada 1st District
Las Vegas, that garish and improbable city, had a fittingly colorful beginning. It began as a Paiute Indian settlement that in the late 1700s served as a watering stop for Spanish priests making the 1,200-mile trek between New Mexico and California. By the 1800s, the Old Spanish Trail, as it came to be known, was used by horse and mule smugglers, by white explorers like John Fremont and by Mormon emigrants heading west. Las Vegas was still a small crossroads when Nevada, its mining industry a shambles, legalized gambling in the 1930s. The WPA Guide to Nevada, published in 1940, when the city had 10,000 people, describes a prim Las Vegas: “Relatively little emphasis is placed on the gambling clubs and divorce facilities—though they are attractions to many visitors—and much effort is being made to build up cultural attractions. No cheap and easily parodied slogans have been adopted to publicize the city, no attempt has been made to introduce pseudo-romantic architectural themes, or to give an artificial glamour or gaiety.”
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
All that changed big-time after World War II, when gangster Bugsy Siegel built the Flamingo hotel and casino on what became the Strip south of the city limits. Pseudo-romantic architectural themes became the order of the day (flamingos are found in the waters of Florida, not in the deserts of Nevada), and one casino followed another. Organized crime provided much of the money and muscle for Las Vegas, and investment capital came from Teamsters pension funds. In the late 1960s, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes moved into the Desert Inn, bought most of the casinos and hired Mormons to run them. After Hughes abruptly left town, most of his hotels eventually were torn down, and other operators built casinos like Caesars Palace and Circus Circus, the Mirage and Excalibur, the lavish Bellagio and Venetian. In the 1970s, the casinos were the haven of flashy high rollers, of Frank Sinatra and girl shows. In the 1990s, diversification became the buzz. Las Vegas began to produce more family-oriented entertainment, shopping, and even high art, with the Bellagio’s museum-quality art collection on view. Las Vegas also built the biggest convention center in the country. But recent promotions have sounded a naughtier theme: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The scent of the underworld has not entirely disappeared. The flashy Oscar Goldman, a former mob lawyer, was elected mayor and actively promoted the city. Today, it remains one of the great leisure destinations in the world. Since the 1960s, Las Vegas has grown faster than any other metropolitan area in the nation. At least 5,000 people move here each month, though roughly half that number depart. Because of the city’s dependence on leisure-time spending, the economic crisis hit hard here in 2008, with gambling down, joblessness up and many new homes unsold. The resorts began to aggressively market to foreigners.
The 1st Congressional District of Nevada consists of the inner core of Las Vegas that visitors are most likely to see. They cross into it as soon as they drive their rental cars out of the lot at McCarran International Airport. On the three-mile Strip you can find 14 of the nation’s 15 largest hotels, each with thousands of rooms. North of Sahara Avenue, Las Vegas Boulevard enters the city of Las Vegas, the older and less glamorous part of town. The district continues north for another dozen miles through the housing developments and scrubland that follow the U.S. 95 and Interstate 15 diagonals, to include the sizable Hispanic and black communities of North Las Vegas. The 1st District is also home to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and includes the Clark County Government Center, a circular sandstone complex whose beautiful Indian-inspired architecture is a testament to the power of the gambling dollar. The district has a high percentage of union members and poverty levels below the national average. More than 80,000 Jewish Americans live in the area, supporting 18 synagogues and a kosher supermarket. Overall, this is a safely Democratic district.