The "Emerald Coast" is the affectionate local name for the Gulf Coast beaches of Florida's Panhandle, from Pensacola east to Destin. This has been military country ever since John Quincy Adams persuaded Spain to sell Florida to the U.S. in 1819 to get the port of Pensacola. It was the site of the nation's first naval aviation training base and the birthplace of carrier aviation. The Air Force also has a massive presence in Eglin Air Force Base, which spreads over the lion's share of three counties.

Culturally part of Dixie, this area was economically dependent in the 1940s and 1950s on the military bases for growth. Even today almost 14,000 people are employed at Eglin Air Force Base, which spreads over three counties and, with approximately 100,000 square miles of airspace stretching over the Gulf of Mexico to the Florida Keys, is considered the largest air base in the free world. Eglin developed the BLU-82 "daisy cutter" and the "bunker buster" JBU-28 bomb that would later be used in Afghanistan. In March 2003, this was the test site for the largest conventional bomb in the U.S. arsenal, the 21,000 pound ordinance referred to as the "Mother of All Bombs."

As the South has become more prosperous, this American Riviera has become a major vacation and retirement spot for Southerners who enjoy its vast, fine-grained white sand beaches, perhaps the finest in the country, and its pleasant inlet-filled bays; it also has become a leading destination of college students for their spring break. Its cultural conservatism has remained ingrained from that earlier era, and it has become economically more conservative as well, while militarily it is supportive of assertive American policies around the world.

The 1st Congressional District includes the end of the Panhandle, so far west it's in the Central time zone--which became a sore point in the 2000 Election when some TV networks declared Al Gore the winner of Florida's electoral votes ten minutes before the polls in the Panhandle closed. The 1st District stretches from Pensacola and the Alabama border east to include Walton County and a portion of Holmes County. Politically, this is Republican territory. It voted solidly against Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush in 2000: the Panhandle and Cuban-American parts of Miami-Dade County, separated by 800 miles, are the two most Republican parts of Florida.