Nevada 2nd District
Outside of metro Las Vegas, huge, empty, and mountainous Nevada has only one sizable population center, a cluster of small cities and towns near the border with California: the casino cities of Reno and Sparks, the small capital of Carson City, the restored Comstock Lode boomtown of Virginia City and the resort areas that surround (and endanger) the deep, impossibly blue waters of Lake Tahoe. Reno is so remote from Las Vegas that the only practical way to get there is by air. It takes more than nine hours to drive, eight of which are on two-lane highways that pass through just a handful of towns, none bigger than 7,000 people. Ghost towns that once bustled with miners dot the parched, sand-swept deserts of Nevada. In some places, these lands remain distinctly rutted from the wagon trains that crossed them more than 100 years ago. Today, Nevada’s small towns survive on mining, ranching and, in some cases, servicing the human sins of greed and lust: It is generally in the small counties that you find Nevada’s legal brothels. Immigrant Basque shepherds once tended their flocks in remote portions of northern Nevada and made carvings on aspen trees to pass the time. Today, Basque festivals, social clubs, and restaurants can be found in Winnemucca, Ely and Elko, while Reno is home to the national sheepherder’s monument and the nation’s only Basque Studies Department, at the University of Nevada-Reno.
2008 Presidential Vote
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The military has vast holdings in the Nevada interior: the Fallon Naval Air Station, home to the Navy Fighter Weapons “Top Gun” School, and the 3.1 million-acre Nellis Air Force Gunnery Range. Also found there is the U.S. Energy Department’s Nevada Test Site, where more than 800 underground tests of nuclear weapons were held, as well as 100 aboveground tests, before 1962. These explosions have left the Rhode Island-sized facility pockmarked with unstable “subsidence craters” as far as the eye can see. Many places in Nevada are dependent on other federal government programs: the Newlands Irrigation Project near Fallon was among the first of its kind, and Nevada’s gold-mining operations, booming since 2000, do not have to pay royalties to the federal government thanks to the Mining Act of 1872. Economic diversification is limited to budding solar- and wind-energy enterprises, bio-agriculture and high-precision technologies. Some 87% of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government—a constant source of tension with local officials, ranchers, loggers and miners, whose pursuits, frequently solitary and often ornery, shaped Nevada’s culture from its earliest days. On the desolate frontier, speculation runs wild: Art Bell used to broadcast his popular radio show about the paranormal, aliens and other unexplained phenomena from tiny Pahrump, while the government’s top-secret aviation experiments at places like Area 51 on the Nellis Gunnery Range have stoked UFO lore to the point that adjoining Route 375 was rededicated as the Extraterrestrial Highway in 1996. Anti-establishment views also flourish here in more mainstream ways. Nevada residents have long opposed a nuclear-waste repository 1,000 feet beneath Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Congress finally approved the project in 2002, with a scheduled opening of 2012, but stubborn opponents continue their battle.
The 2nd Congressional District of Nevada takes in all of this and the vast majority of Nevada’s land area. Excluding single-member states, this is the largest congressional district in the nation. After the 2000 census results came in, two districts were created entirely within Clark County, which had 69% of the state’s population; the 2nd consisted of all the other counties, plus small slices of Clark County. About one-half of the district’s population is in Washoe County, which contains Reno and Sparks. Half a century ago, Reno was Nevada’s largest city. “The Biggest Little City in the World,” reads the neon sign across downtown Virginia Street. It has grown steadily, but vastly less than Las Vegas, which now overshadows it. Reno is the state’s third-largest city behind Henderson. Its casinos were hit hard by competition from Indian casinos in California, and the growth trend gravitates toward Lake Tahoe, just to the west. People here are from all over: the Tahoe communities of Stateline, Zephyr Cove, and Incline Village are among the U.S. cities with the smallest percentage of residents born in the state. A new city, Coyote Springs, is being built about 60 miles north of Las Vegas, with plans for 159,000 homes and its own groundwater resources. Historically, Reno has been Republican and Las Vegas Democratic. In the 1990s, when the federal government was widely viewed as unfriendly to mining, grazing and timber interests, the cow counties, as the counties outside Reno and Las Vegas are called, became even more Republican. All that has made the 2nd District heavily Republican.