|Nevada's 3rd Congressional District|
Just 70 years ago, only 91,000 people called the sprawling desert plains and rocky terrain of Nevada their home. Today, the "Silver State" has experienced such rapid growth that in one decade its population has ballooned from 1.2 million to 2 million people. According to the 2000 census, Nevada has experienced the largest rate of population gain in the country -- a stunning 66.6 percent growth rate since 1990.
As a result, the state gained one additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Nearly 70 percent of Nevadans live in Clark County, which includes gambling mecca Las Vegas. Away from Vegas' bright lights, the rest of the state is a picturesque frame of ancient rock formations.
Nevada is home to the 36,000-acre Mojave Desert and to Lake Tahoe, the second-largest high-elevation lake in the U.S. and once a summer gathering place for Native Americans.
The Sierra Nevada range that separates a large portion of Nevada and California is one of the state's other major natural attractions. But the remoteness and rugged nature of much of the state's geography also set it up for one of its largest political fights.
Along one of these ridges 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas stands Yucca Mountain, the proposed site of a massive repository of nuclear waste. Before the recent redistricting, the state had two congressional districts: the 1st District covering the inner part of Clark County -- what Democratic Congresswoman Shelley Berkley calls the "hole in the bagel" - and the 2nd District comprising everything outside the urban core.
The physical boundaries of the new 3rd District, also in Clark County, extend to the Nye County line on the west, the Colorado River and Utah border in the east and the tip of Nevada in the south forming a "T." The 3rd District is comprised of a hodgepodge of voters within urban, suburban and rural communities, where 13 percent of the voting age population is Hispanic, 6 percent is Asian -American, and 5 percent is African-American. Historically Democratic, Nevada has undergone a political shift in recent years.
Republicans captured the governor's office through Gov. Kenny Guinn in 1998 and now control five of six statewide offices, along with the state Senate, one U.S. Senate post and one of two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The 1st District is largely bi-partisan; the 2nd leans strongly Republican. The new 3rd district is a political mixed bag, with Democrats and Republicans each making up 42 percent of the district's 300,000 registered voters.
The new district's composition has sparked a heated House race between Democrat Dario Herrera and Republican Jon Porter. Meanwhile, Nevadans will vote on a number of measures this November, including referendums on whether to raise taxes and whether to authorize the state to issue some $200 million in bonds for conservation and resource protection.
But the most controversial measure will be Question 9, an initiative that would ease the state marijuana laws. If Nevadans pass the initiative, the state could become the first in the nation to legalize marijuana.
Once inhabited only by Native Americans, Nevada became a new frontier for Spanish explorers who first ventured into the state in the 1770s. Half a century later, fur traders and trappers began to travel through Nevada and wagon trains began using it as a route to get to California during the gold rush.
John C. Frémont had explored much of the state between 1843 and 1845, and his reports provided the federal government with its first comprehensive report on the area, which the United States acquired from Mexico after the Mexican War, which ended in 1848.
Mormons moved west to settle in the mountains and valleys of Utah, and in 1850 the federal government set up the Utah Territory -- a sweeping tract of land that included almost all of present-day Nevada.
Non-Mormons hesitated to settle in the Mormon-dominated territory, but after the discovery of the Comstock Lode, a masive deposit of silver, in 1859, the population in the area soared. Within a few years, political pressure mounted to split from Utah. It was codified when the U.S. granted separate territory status in March 1861.
Three years later it entered the Union in the midst of the Civil War. The mines provided fortunes for the early settlers.
But today the state's economy rests largely on tourism and gambling, which was legalized in 1931.
--By Raven Tyler, Online NewsHour