If either Donald Trump or Joe Biden is to win the presidency on Tuesday night (or, more likely, on the few days that follow), they will have to do it by taking some combination of the following six swing states: Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Texas. Other states, like Wisconsin and Georgia, may come into play as the night proceeds, but these six battlegrounds represent the most crucial electoral votes on the path to 270.
And in each case, as the votes are being tallied on Election Day, there are individual counties that could give us an early indication of which way their state will swing once the final votes are tallied. Here is a look at the bellwether counties for the 2020 presidential race.
Sumter County, Fla. For Joe Biden, there is no more valuable prize than Florida. If he takes this state, the presidency is his, no matter what else happens on Tuesday night. And early returns from Sumter County, home to that sprawling retirement community known as The Villages, will almost certainly tell us if Biden has a realistic shot to win the Sunshine State. In 2016, Sumter went for Donald Trump by a huge margin over Hillary Clinton—68.8% to 29.5%—and went solidly Republican in both 2008 and 2012. But many political forecasters, including Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report, are predicting a “gray revolt” for Biden, based largely on seniors’ concern over coronavirus and their anger over the Trump administration’s bungled response to the pandemic. “Trump’s newly adopted home state of Florida is a must-win for his hopes of a second term,” Wasserman recently wrote. “But if the ‘gray revolt’ against him depicted in polls and dispatches from The Villages comes to pass, it should be apparent quickly on election night.” (Another county to watch: Pinellas, which backed Trump after twice voting for Barack Obama.)
Sumter Co., FL (The Villages) update: we're up to 81,262 early votes cast out of 105,612 registered voters – a 77% turnout rate, the highest in the state. https://t.co/7hJkcln5TP
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) October 31, 2020
Luzerne County, Pennsylvania: It’s no accident that both Donald Trump and Kamala Harris made campaign stops in Luzerne County, in western Pennsylvania, on the final Monday before Election Day. This working-class county, not far from Biden’s childhood home of Scranton, is emblematic of the swing in the state populace that flipped Pennsylvania from blue to red in that last two elections. Barack Obama won Luzerne by 5 percentage points in 2012, but Trump took it by 19 in 2016. It’s expected to be a key battleground again this year, and should give a good indication of whether Biden can win back this part of Pennsylvania and thus the state itself. (Another county to watch: Chester, which Trump took in 2016, but which flipped to the Democrats in the 2018 midterms.)
— ✊🏾ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER✊🏾 (@flywithkamala) November 3, 2020
Kent County, Michigan: As we get closer to Election Day, Michigan seems an increasingly safe bet for the Biden campaign, thus reversing the nightmare of 2016, when Hillary Clinton lost the state by just 11,000 states. But if Biden wants to win Michigan, he almost certainly needs to carry Kent County. This county, the home of Gerald R. Ford and a place where the Republican establishment (including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) still dominates the local political and economic scene, might seem an unlikely place to propel Joe Biden to victory. But in 2016, it went for Donald Trump by only 9,000 votes over Hillary Clinton, and then, in 2018, the Democratic candidate for governor, Gretchen Whitmer, won the county by 4 percentage points over her Republican rival. That Donald Trump seems to recognize the importance of holding onto Kent County is indicated by the fact that the president chose Grand Rapids, the county seat, for his final appearance on the 2020 campaign trail, giving a speech that seemed to sum up his divisive, corrosive re-election campaign. “I’ve fought for you harder than anyone has ever fought before,” Trump said during a speech given at midnight to a crowd gathered at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. “Do you want to be represented by a politician who hates you?” (In terms of turnout, the key Democratic counties to watch are Genesee, home to Flint, and Wayne, home to Detroit. Joe Biden and Barack Obama made their only joint appearance of the 2020 campaign in those two cities on Saturday.)
— Joshua Neyhart (@maniacmiler) October 26, 2020
Nash County, North Carolina: North Carolina has been a reliably red state in recent elections, with Republican nominees for the White House winning the state in 10 of the last 12 elections. Barack Obama took the state in 2008, but then lost it to Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 3.6 percentage points. But in 2020, the state is definitely up for grabs, though Trump probably needs it more than Biden if he is going to get to 270 electoral votes. “Most paths to the White House go through North Carolina,” Chris Cooper, professor of political science at Western Carolina University, recently told CBNC. “It’s particularly true for President Trump.” One key indicator of how the state might go is Nash County. This once-reliable Republican stronghold, which gave GOP candidates double-digit victories in 2000 and 2004, went for John McCain by just a margin of 1.3% in 2008, for Barack Obama by 1.0% in 2012 and for Trump by a razor-thin 0.2% in 2016. Democrats are hoping to flip it back for Biden in 2020. (Another county to watch: Union County. The populous county, in suburban Charlotte, went strongly for Trump in 2016 after doing the same for Romney in 2012 and McCain in 2008. But recent polling shows that many local Republicans are disaffected with the Trump administration, particularly over his handling of the pandemic. This county may not go for Biden, but a narrow margin of victory for Trump would indicate that the president is in trouble with the state as a whole.)
Maricopa County, Arizona: Home to Phoenix and more than 60 percent of the state’s electorate, Maricopa is Arizona’s most important county and the one that will almost certainly determine which candidate will win the state’s 11 Electoral College votes. It went narrowly for Donald Trump in 2016 (and strongly backed John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012), but in 2018 it supported a Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema, for U.S. senator. Will the county’s changing demographics, which have been trending younger and more highly educated, tip the state to a Democratic president for the first time since 1996? Advance voting recently passed 2.4 million, and exit polls suggest that Democrats held the edge in that balloting. But local Republicans are hoping that strong day-of voting will go their way, and give the state to Trump once again. (Other counties to watch: None.)
Collin County, Texas: In Texas, a state that surprisingly is in play this year, all eyes are on the suburbs, which have exploded in population and have grown increasingly Democratic in recent years. One major battleground is Collin County, outside Dallas, which has more than 1 million residents and which backed Trump by 17 percentage points in 2016. (Mitt Romney took the county, long a Republican stronghold, by a whopping 32 percentage points in 2012.) Two years later, however, the Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke came within 5 percentage points of winning Collin County during his close but failed bid to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. This year, Collin is among the Texas counties with the largest number of advance voters and Joel Montfort, a Democratic consultant in North Texas, told the Texas Tribune this week that Collin County has seen about 70,000 first-time voters so far in early voting, and that nearly half are 40 years old or younger. “The million-dollar question” Montfort said, is “which way are they gonna fall?” (In terms of turnout, another county to watch is the Democratic stronghold of Harris County, where Houston is located and where 1.4 million advance votes have already been recorded. A federal judge recently beat back a challenge from local Republicans to invalidate more than 127,000 advance ballots that were cast at a drive-in polling center, a ruling that was praised by voting rights experts and which many political pundits say could ultimately provide the difference in this tightly contested state race.)
VICTORY! The court just denied a request to set aside the nearly 127,000 drive-thru votes cast in Harris County, Texas.
This is what democracy looks like.
— ACLU 🗳 (@ACLU) November 2, 2020