The East Coast polls will be the first to close on election night and are likely to signal how the contest shapes up for Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Donald J. Trump. Since the United States does not have a single national election, but rather 50 individual state contests, smaller slices of the electorate are closely examined by campaigns as a roadmap to victory or defeat. These political strategists understand that a lot can be gained by examining a few key counties.
With charts and maps covering every square inch of their computer monitors, they will be looking at how their party did in each county in 2016. Did Hillary win? If so, by how much? Is that county a Republican or Democratic stronghold? Did Trump flip that county last time? These are the questions they will ask. So here is some inside baseball for those who would rather be in the know and not have a heart attack on November 3.
Miami-Dade, FL: The big kahuna of counties in Florida is Miami-Dade. It is a district that has voted Democratic in the last five presidential elections. In 2016 Hillary Clinton cleaned Trump’s clock with 65.1% to 34.9% of the vote here. Should the president have a better showing in this crucial county on election night, it will be an indicator that Miami-Dade’s sizable Latin population shifted Republican.
Sumpter County, FL: Home to the mammoth 55 and older senior community known as The Villages, Sumpter County lies about an hour north of Orlando and an hour and a half west of Tampa. If Trump is having trouble with seniors, it will show up in Sumpter County. In 2016, Trump won Sumpter handily 70.0% to HRC’s 30.0%.
Cobb County, GA: This is the old Newt Gingrich district. Residents of Cobb County have voted Republican in every presidential election since 1976 – except for 2016. One could say Hillary Clinton won the battle but lost the war in Georgia. HRC beat Mr. Trump narrowly in Cobb but ultimately lost the Peach State. If the president takes Cobb County this time around, Team Trump will be breathing a whole lot easier when the rest of the returns start flooding in from Georgia.
Rutherford County, NC: Politicos love to put North Carolina in play, and lo and behold Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 – but it was a photo finish with less than a percentage point over John McCain. That was the exception to prove the rule as North Carolinians voted Republican in every presidential race since 1976. Rutherford County is rural and demographically white. In 2016 residents of Rutherford crowned Trump with almost 75% of the vote, crushing Hillary.
Philadelphia County, PA: Jump on I-95, head north to Pennsylvania, and you have almost a complete flip in Philadelphia County, which encompasses the City of Brotherly Love. This is Biden Country and could be why Democrats pushed for the former vice-president to become their nominee. Democratic operatives rightly understood that the 2016 race came down to the Keystone State. Last time around, HRC pulled in a whopping 84.2% to Trump’s paltry 15.8% in Philadelphia County. Biden must perform at a similar level on November 3.
Westmoreland County, PA: Drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike for five or six hours, and you end up in Westmoreland County, located just west of Pittsburgh. Founded in 1773, Westmoreland County is rural with a white working-class community – basically, we are talking Trump Country. In 2016, Westmoreland showed Trump a whole lot of love; he won it by a more significant margin than any major county in the state. If he does it again or better, the Biden campaign will start popping the Alka-Seltzer in preparation for what could be an exceptionally long night.
Mahoning County, OH: All roads in a presidential election eventually lead to the Buckeye State. Ohio’s northeast corridor encompasses three counties: Mahoning (which includes Youngstown), Ashtabula, and Trumbull Counties. All three regions have bled blue forever. So, when Trump flipped Ashtabula and Trumbull and came within a few points of taking Mahoning, sirens went off at Clinton HQ. If two of these counties go for Biden, this will spell trouble for Trump and indicate that some of his base has left him.
While every election night has its tense moments, it is a bit easier to see the roadmap ahead when dealing with an incumbent. You can bet both campaigns know how their side performed in every county of every state in 2016 and will be comparing how their candidate is fairing as the evening progresses. With information regarding these few counties at your fingertips, now you won’t have to listen to the spin because you, too, will have a better handle on the returns.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.