While most observers will be keeping an eye on the state-by-state returns on election night next year, political analysts know that victory will hinge on the outcome in a select few counties across the country. In 2016, for example, President Trump’s victory came down to 77,000 votes in three Midwestern battlegrounds.
As both Republicans and Democrats look to expand the battlefield next year, The Hill’s Reid Wilson spoke with over 20 strategists, political scientists and observers to identify the 10 counties across the country that will determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The 10 Counties To Watch In 2020
Erie County, PA: “In 2016, Trump beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton there by 1.6 percentage points — about twice the margin by which he won Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. In 2008 and 2012, Obama won Erie County by double-digit margins. Democratic success there will be a sign that the party has bridged the divide with its own voters who feel left behind.”
Sauk County, WI: “Sauk County has predicted the winner of Wisconsin’s electoral votes in nine of the past 10 presidential elections. Trump was the first Republican to carry the county in 28 years, when he won it by just 109 votes out of about 30,000 cast. He carried Wisconsin’s electoral votes by about eight-tenths of a percentage point.”
Muskegon County, MI: The county’s “economy is dominated by a struggling manufacturing industry and a growing health care sector. Though the county has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992, Clinton won it by just 1,200 votes — the closest margin of any county in Michigan, which gave its electoral votes to Trump.”
Maricopa County, AZ: “In 2016, Trump beat Clinton in Maricopa County by just 3 percentage points, a slightly lower margin than his statewide edge. Only one Republican in recent history has won a statewide election without winning Maricopa County.”
Tarrant County, TX: “Republicans [here] peaked in 2004, when Bush scored 62 percent of the vote, or 349,000 votes. Twelve years later, Trump won just 52 percent of the vote, or 346,000 votes. Two years after that, then-Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) won Tarrant County by 4,000 votes over Sen. Ted Cruz (R).”
New Hanover County, NC: “Dominated by Wilmington, New Hanover was part of the Democratic Solid South until Richard Nixon’s election in 1968. Since then, it has only voted for one Democratic presidential candidate — fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter. But the GOP’s historic advantage there is shrinking. Obama came within 1,400 votes of winning New Hanover County in 2008, and Trump became the first Republican to win less than half the vote since George H.W. Bush split the conservative vote with Ross Perot in 1992.”
Peach County, GA: “In a county of just 27,000 people, every vote counts. Last time around, Peach County stood as a bellwether for the entire state. Trump took 50.3 percent of the vote, almost perfectly matched his performance statewide, 50.4 percent. In 2018, Republican Brian Kemp scored 52 percent of the vote in his bid for governor, beating out Democrat Stacey Abrams by just under 500 votes.”
Washington County, MN: “Washington County voted twice for George W. Bush, then twice for Obama. Clinton carried Washington County by just 1.8 percentage points, almost exactly the margin by which she carried Minnesota as a whole.”
Hillsborough County, NH: “Another opportunity for the Trump campaign to pick up electoral votes comes in New Hampshire, a state Clinton won by fewer than 3,000 votes. Trump could close that gap by winning a bigger margin in Hillsborough County, the largest in the state, where he led Clinton by fewer than 500 votes.”
Lincoln County, ME: “Clinton won Lincoln County, 47.6 percent to 45.2 percent — nearly identical to her 2-point win in the popular vote. If Trump keeps his blue-collar base, or if ancestral Republicans break against him and cost him the White House, Lincoln County will be the microcosm through which to view the 2020 outcome.”