Florida’s 1st Congressional District
Florida’s 1st Congressional District encompasses the western Florida Panhandle along the Gulf of Mexico. It stretches from Pensacola in the west to Destin and Panama City Beach in the east. The district has long been known as a conservative Republican stronghold. Its economy relies heavily on the military, tourism, and fishing industries.
Geography and Demographics
The 1st District covers a largely rural area dotted with small cities along the coast. It includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, and Washington counties. The landscape consists of sandy beaches, coastal wetlands, inland forests, and rolling farmland.
The population in 2020 was around 770,000. The district is mostly white, with Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents each comprising 5% or less of the population. Median household income is approximately $50,000. Military veterans make up a significant share of residents.
Major Cities and Counties
Pensacola, in Escambia County, is the largest city and forms the hub of the western Panhandle. Destin and Fort Walton Beach, in Okaloosa County, are popular tourist destinations on the Emerald Coast. Panama City Beach, in Bay County, draws spring breakers and families. Milton, Crestview, and DeFuniak Springs are small inland towns. The district also includes Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field.
Voting Patterns and Leanings
The 1st District is staunchly conservative. Donald Trump carried it by 29 points in 2020. The Cook PVI score is R+19, making it the 45th most Republican district nationwide. Republicans routinely win federal and state races by landslide margins.
Current and Past Representatives
Republican Matt Gaetz has represented the district since 2017. He succeeded fellow GOP Congressman Jeff Miller, who held the seat for 15 years before retiring. Other past representatives included Joe Scarborough and Earl Hutto.
The Democratic challengers Gaetz faced in 2018, 2020, and 2022 never garnered more than 35% of the vote.
2022 Redistricting Changes
Redistricting Process and Controversy
Florida redrew its congressional map after the 2020 Census. The initial maps approved by the GOP-led legislature were controversial, leading courts to declare them unconstitutional. However, the map pushed by Governor Ron DeSantis was ultimately reinstated.
New Boundaries and Political Implications
The new 1st District shed some conservative rural areas in exchange for Democratic-leaning precincts in Tallahassee. This slightly improved Democratic prospects but kept the district solidly red. Gaetz still defeated his Democratic opponent by over 30 points in 2022.
Recent and Upcoming Elections
In November 2022, Gaetz won re-election by defeating Democrat Rebekah Jones, holding the seat for Republicans. However, his 35% margin of victory was less than in 2020, partly due to redistricting changes.
2020 Redistricting Cycle
Gaetz previously won by 29 points in 2020 against Democrat Phil Ehr. He faced no serious primary challengers that year.
Barring a major political upheaval, the 1st District is likely to remain in Republican control through the 2030 redistricting cycle. However, demographic changes may slowly shift the district toward a more competitive footing.
Key Issues and Industries
The Panhandle’s economy and culture are heavily influenced by the military. Major installations include Pensacola Naval Air Station, Eglin AFB, Hurlburt Field, and Tyndall AFB. Defense contracting and spending are vital sources of local jobs.
Miles of sandy white beaches along the Emerald Coast, such as Destin and Panama City Beach, fuel a thriving tourism industry. Family resorts, eco-tourism such as fishing charters, amusement parks, and seasonal events attract millions of visitors each year. However, hurricanes frequently damage area infrastructure.
Fishing and Seafood
Commercial fishing fleets operate from ports like Panama City and Apalachicola. Seafood processing and distribution facilities provide local jobs. Oysters, shrimp, grouper, and other Gulf seafood are exported around the country. Environmental issues like red tide can disrupt production.
Florida’s 1st Congressional District covers the Panhandle’s pristine beaches, military bastions, and fishing towns. Its conservative rural voters reliably send Republicans like Matt Gaetz to Congress. However, demographic changes and redistricting may gradually make this GOP stronghold more competitive over the coming decades. The district’s military installations, tourism resorts, and seafood industry form the backbone of the regional economy. Residents proudly embrace the Panhandle’s distinctive culture and values.
Who is the current U.S. representative for Florida’s 1st District?
The current representative is Republican Matt Gaetz, first elected in 2016.
What are the key industries in the district?
The military, tourism centered on beach resorts, and commercial fishing and seafood processing are major industries.
How has redistricting changed the district?
The 2022 redistricting made the 1st District slightly less Republican by adding parts of Tallahassee while dropping some very conservative rural areas.
What counties are located in the district?
It includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, and Washington counties along Florida’s western Panhandle.
How long has the district been reliably Republican?
The 1st District has voted overwhelmingly Republican in congressional races for over three decades, with the GOP winning by double-digits.