Washington 3rd District
From the Pacific Ocean to the majestic row of active and inactive volcanoes, from Mount Rainier to Mount St. Helens, southwest Washington was long one of America’s most productive lumber areas. The moist air and almost constant rains blown in from the Pacific keep the trees on the coast growing rapidly. Precipitation is heavy in the valleys just past the Coast Range, and the forests there are also fast growing. Then come the high mountains. The Cascades are a genuine divide, wringing almost all of the moisture out of the air and making the climate eastward for a thousand miles arid. Americans were reminded of the force of the volcanoes when Mount St. Helens, dormant for 123 years, erupted in 1980, killing 65 people, destroying its own peak and paving the land around it with lava. Americans had long been taught that the lower 48 states had no active volcanoes, but Mount St. Helens proved that wrong. Today, plants, animals and fish are surging back.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
In 1805, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came down the Columbia River to a rainy and foggy winter by the ocean. For many years, this part of Washington was sparsely settled, with lumber-mill and fishing-boat towns scattered between mountains and water. It was flannel-shirt country, Democratic since the New Deal days. In the early 1990s, its resource-based economy was threatened by the environmental movement, which restricted fishing practices and produced a court decision shutting down logging in old-growth forests to save spotted owl habitat. This roiled local politics and gave Republicans an opening. An important demographic shift has been the spread of two great metropolitan areas into these valleys. Clark County, across the Columbia from Portland, Ore., has filled up with new residents, eager to avoid Oregon’s income tax but still make big purchases in Oregon free of sales tax. The county’s population grew by 45% in the 1990s and by another 23% after 2000. Olympia, the increasingly trendy and fast-growing state capital, has added residents at a greater rate than the Seattle-Tacoma metro area in recent years. The region is one of America’s great international trading areas, with big exports of logs and timber and imports arriving on the Puget Sound docks. The Columbia River Gorge features spectacular outdoor activities, including some of the finest windsurfing in the nation.
The 3rd Congressional District of Washington covers the southwestern corner of the state, between the ocean and the Cascades, from Olympia south to Vancouver. Economic growth and diversification and the coming of many new residents with no roots in the old industries have made the district politically marginal; George W. Bush won here with 48% of the vote in 2000 and 50% in 2004. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won here with 53% of the vote in 2008. It is one of only nine districts in the country with a Cook Partisan Voter Index score of “Even,” meaning its political performance closely approximates the national average. About two-thirds of the district’s votes are cast near Vancouver in the Portland, Ore., market, where suburban dwellers are wary of high taxes. Liberals are more prevalent in the northern third of the district around Olympia, which is in the Seattle media market.