Washington 7th District
Seattle rises from the Puget Sound harbor of Elliott Bay on steep hills once covered with 300-foot-high Douglas firs. Behind the hills and buildings on a clear day, you can see from almost anywhere the nimbus of Mount Rainier. On the picturesque waterfront, below gleaming high-rises, is Pike Place Market, where you can get fresh salmon and Dungeness crabs. Nearby is Pioneer Square, where stores and warehouses from the turn of the 20th century have been restored. Yesler Way was America’s original Skid Road—literally a path for skidding newly cut logs to transportation terminals—and it still has some homeless people. Seattle’s upper class, like San Francisco’s, continues to be anchored in downtown, with its upscale stores and busy sidewalks. Seattle first broke into the national consciousness with the 1897 Klondike gold strike and has been a major American city since around 1910. It hosted its own World’s Fair in 1962. In the 1990s, its combination of economic growth and creativity plus its physical beauty and distinctive style made it a national trendsetter. Seattle has some old ethnic neighborhoods, like the once heavily Scandinavian Ballard, which has been moving toward boutiques and nightspots, and the countercultural Capitol Hill, where shoppers jam busy stores, galleries and clubs. But it also has a new ethnic mix, with thousands of Asian immigrants. The dominant tone is set by highly educated, affluent, single professionals, who have made the Victorian houses overlooking the harbor and the 1940s houses in Capitol Hill among the nation’s highest-priced residential real estate. There are still blue-collar workers on the south side of the city and in the valleys. Factories, warehouses and railroad yards are concentrated on a flat plain near Puget Sound and south of downtown. Boeing, long based in Seattle, is America’s biggest exporter, but Seattle has had other exports, such as Nordstrom department stores with their famously attentive service and fashionable goods. Seattle also is the headquarters, in an old industrial district, of Starbucks coffee, which now has more than 13,000 stores.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Seattle ranks as one of the nation’s most desirable, and liberal, cities. But it has suffered some black eyes in the past decade. In 1999, a World Trade Organization meeting turned into the “Battle in Seattle” after anti-globalism protests were hijacked by anarchists, sending riot police into the streets with tear gas. The city cancelled its millennium celebration at the Space Needle because of a terrorist threat. Then, a federal judge ruled that Microsoft was a monopoly. And in perhaps the toughest economic blow, Boeing announced in 2001 that it was relocating its corporate headquarters to Chicago. The airplane-manufacturing giant also began experimenting with sending some of its work offshore and contracting out work to build parts of its new 787 Dreamliner. The move did not go over well in labor union-friendly Seattle, prompting a strike by the company’s Machinist union in 2009.
Three other local icons hit hard times at the end of the decade. Starbucks not only ceased its rapid expansion, it closed stores and laid off baristas. The city’s professional basketball team, the SuperSonics, moved to Oklahoma City after Starbucks owner Howard Schultz sold the team to a group of Oklahoma businessmen who broke a promise to keep the team in the Northwest. And in March 2009, Seattle’s oldest running newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, stopped its printing presses and began publishing exclusively online, leaving The Seattle Times as the city’s only daily newspaper. But Seattle’s economic foundation remains strong. Amazon is expanding into a huge new campus south of Lake Union, and Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ decision to turn his attention to global health philanthropy has made Seattle the Davos of health care, drawing experts in malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS and other global scourges. And the city’s new professional soccer team, The Sounders FC, is drawing as many fans as the departed basketball team did.
The 7th Congressional District of Washington includes nearly all of the city of Seattle, some industrial suburban fringe to the south, a white-collar suburban fringe to the north, and artsy, bucolic Vashon Island in Puget Sound. Seattle is one of the whitest major cities in the nation, so this district—13% Asian, 8% black and 7% Hispanic—is the closest thing to a minority district in the Seattle area. It shares more with San Francisco than hills and scenery. It is heavily populated by singles, gays, young professionals and elderly pensioners. It has one of the nation’s lowest percentages of married couples and children. A generation ago, Seattle was roughly split between the parties. Today, it is heavily Democratic. John Kerry carried the district 79%-19% in 2004, and Barack Obama won it 84%-15% in 2008.