8 Battleground Counties to Decide the Election

Addendum:  This is a re-post from September 20 that I think has held up pretty well.  The biggest difference I’d say is Florida is almost certainly out of reach for Obama so look at Scott County, Iowa as a good one tonight.  You can also scroll through the numerous posts on various Battleground Counties across the county.

[Begin Original Post] That headline is a bit of a stretch but reader Roland Tilden sends a link to a story by Smart Media Group’s Chris Palko who breaks down 10 counties he believes Romney must win to carry the election.   And since we love Battleground Counties almost as much as we love Battleground States, this was right up our alley. What is consistent about the counties selected is each is a big population center so that understandably impacts election outcomes and each was a Bush 2004 and an Obama 2008 county. Not coincidentally Mitt Romney’s original bus tour in June hit a great many of these counties and will almost certainly do so again this time.

The only thing I don’t like about the list is 2 counties are in North Carolina which is not a Battleground in my opinion. In Palko’s defense, this story was originally published in April so his choices are really excellent so far out. As for North Carolina, it’s a state Romney will win by 5-10%. And until President Obama actually campaigns in the state (he hasn’t in all of 2012 outside of his Convention), it’s very likely a GOP pickup with minimal effort from this point forward and not worthy of much attention beyond that acknowledgement.

We have profiled a number of these counties whose links I provide below.  Where there is a battlegroundwatch.com post specifically on one of the cities he mentions, I provided the link as well in addition to my “Battle for [State]” series for each state. With that said, here are the eight Battleground Counties (in reverse order of impact according to Palko) that will go a long way to deciding the election: Hillsborough County, N.H. , Prince William County, Va., Chester County, Pa., Jefferson County, Colo., Arapahoe County, Colo., Hamilton County, Ohio, Pinellas County, Fla., Hillsborough County, Fla.

#8: Hillsborough County  New Hampshire
2004: Bush 51 – 48 2008: Obama 51 – 48
Population: 400,721 Largest city: Manchester

Palko: Most of New Hampshire’s population is close to the Massachusetts state line, which Hillsborough County straddles. It contains a vital grouping of towns and cities including Manchester and Nashua, the two largest cities in the state. Both are swing communities, in the electoral sense.

Battlegroundwatch: This is the location of Mitt Romney’s summer home, the place where he launched his Presidential bid and where he kicked off his June bus tour. They have spent money on the air, these voters are Mitt Romney kind of Republicans and the state has had a Republican resurregence.  Ripe for the plucking but it will be a battle to the end.

#7: Prince William County Virginia
2004: Bush 53 – 47 2008: Obama 58-42
Population: 402,002 Largest community: Dale City

Palko: Prince William County is an exurban county about 25 miles southwest of Washington D.C. It’s on the edge between the traditional, conservative Virginia, and the more progressive suburbs outside the capital. Prince William has become very diverse in recent years, particularly in the I-95 corridor. A hard swing towards Obama was key for him winning Virginia.

Battlegroundwatch: I would have ranked this much higher and definitely in the top 3. This is Obama’s bread-basket: upwardly mobile suburban moderates who trended strongly for Obama in 2008 but whose support has softened in the difficult economic environment. This is where Romney will need to make his mark if he is going to stem the tide of Northern Virginia dominance by Democrats.

  #6 Chester County Pennsylvania
2004: Bush 52 – 47.5 2008: Obama 54 – 45
Population: 498,886 Largest city: West Chester

Palko: Of the four suburban Philly counties, Chester was the only one that Bush won in 2004. The tail end of the prestigious Main Line is in the county, but so is the disadvantaged city of Coatesville. In between, there are plenty of middle-class suburbs, and even still some farmland. This is one of the few counties in Pennsylvania showing substantial population growth, so its importance is increasing.

Battlegroundwatch: It was no accident that the “youthful” Paul Ryan (early-40s is still youthful, right?) and the Romney sons have hit this area hard .  Similar to the suburban growth outside of DC in Virginia, this area outside Pennsylvania is full of persuadable Romney voters.  To win the state, Republicans must begin performing well here and in neighboring counties and they’ll never crack this nut.

#5 Jefferson County Colorado 
2004: Bush 52 – 47 2008: Obama 54 – 45
Population: 534,543 Largest city: Lakewood

Palko: Colorado is a heavily polarized state divided between very liberal Dems in Denver and Boulder, and very conservative Reps in Colorado Springs and the rural areas. The balance of power is held by the handful of counties in suburban Denver. Jefferson County to the west of the city is truly a purple county closely mirroring Colorado’s overall results in the last two presidential contests.

Battlegroundwatch: Filled with one of my favorite stories this cycle about battleground Precinct 7202330176 in Lakewood, a neighborhood who has called all but one statewide race correct since 2000. The swingiest of swing voters, Jefferson has been a regular stop for both sides all election season. Crowd sizes have been huge for Romney and flipping suburban white voters will be the key like they were in 2008 when they flipped for Obama.

#4  Arapahoe County Colorado
2004: Bush 51 – 48 2008: Obama 56 – 43
Population: 572,003 Largest city: Aurora

Palko: Arapahoe County is to the southeast of Denver and, like Jefferson, it’s a purple county that determines which party wins CO. It contains most of Aurora, the second biggest city in the Denver area. The county, and Aurora in particular, has seen a major increase in its Hispanic population in the past decade. This development has made the county a bit more Democratic than its neighbors.

Battlegroundwatch: The key here are the unaffiliated voters who much like Jefferson County swung for Obama in 2008.  Economy is the key.  These are upper middle income workers who often commute to Denver but fall into the pure suburban stereo-type.  Issues like taxes and jobs resonate strongly with this crowd who has unfortunately seen its fair share of recent tragedies.

#3 Hamilton County Ohio
2004: Bush 52.5 – 47 2008: Obama 53 – 46
Population: 802,374 Largest city: Cincinnati

Palko: Cincinnati is one of the most Republican metro areas outside of the South, but the central city county of Hamilton is a swing county. Hamilton County is worth watching, in part, because African-American turnout will be crucial. Sustaining high African-American turnout can make or break Obama’s reelection hopes. [Obama was] the first Democrat since Lyndon Johnson to carry the county.

Battlegroundwatch: A great boon for Obama in 2008 in a state where he underperformed national margins, his win in Hamilton was a shocker.  This is Rob Portman country so look for the debate prep partner and VP short-lister to be featured prominently in efforts to flip this back. This once reliable GOP region must flip if Romney is to have any chance in Ohio.

#2 Pinellas County Florida
2004: Bush 49.6 – 49.5 2008: Obama 54 – 45
Population: 916,542 Largest city: St. Petersburg

Palko: The top counties are both part of Florida’s I-4 Corridor, which runs through the Daytona Beach, Orlando and Tampa areas. The I-4 is the most important region in this presidential election. In Pinellas County, St. Petersburg has some neighborhoods that are solidly Democratic, but most of the territory is split 50/50. Every precinct could make the difference between winning and losing.

Battlegroundwatch: I would have inserted Henrico Couty, VA here (bigger Battleground, Florida trending GOP). But Pinellas is an interesting county w/a lot of conflicting politics.  It was a strong Romney county in the primaries where he doubled his nearest competitor. Unsurprisingly Ann Romney has been featured prominently in this county next door to the Republican Convention.

#1 Hillsborough County Florida
2004: Bush 53 – 46 2008: Obama 53 – 46
Population: 1,229,226 Largest city: Tampa

Palko: The most crucial county this fall is on the other side of Tampa Bay from Pinellas, the runner-up. Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa and its immediate suburbs, is the only county listed with more than one million residents. Still, it’s a fairly accurate small-scale version of America. It has a solidly Democratic central city that includes large African-American and Hispanic populations, and some outlying areas that are heavily Republican. The immediate suburbs are closely split. Whoever wins Hillsborough County in November is most likely the next occupant of the White House.

Battlegroundwatch: If Mitt Romney doesn’t win Florida, he probably doesn’t win the election.  And if he doesn’t win Hillsborough County, he probably doesn’t win Florida. Home of the Republican Convention and probably more campaign attention than any in the state.  This target rich county at the base of the I-4 corridor, this county is as closely contested as any in the country.  Of the 1.95 million votes cast in presidential elections since 1992, Republican nominees won only about 14,000 more than Democratic nominees. The outcome in the Tampa Bay market has run within 2 percentage points of the statewide result in every presidential election since 1992.


  1. Posted September 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Great info!

  2. CAChris
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow Keith, your fingers must be burning! Thanks for all this info, excellent!

  3. CAChris
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink | Reply

    A Cincinnati.com front-page link to a chart with dummy data, created as a design template for election results, was inadvertently posted early Tuesday morning.

    It purported to show early voting totals in Ohio counties. However, no votes have been counted yet – by law counting doesn’t start until the polls close.

    Cincinnati.com regrets the error.

    Those who are curious, those OH numbers inaccurate.

    • John
      Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink | Reply

      Whoever made up the dummy data is definitely a Romney backer 🙂

      • CAChris
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        Uhm no, more like an Obama backer, this stuff is to help suppress vote in my opinion… I tweeted to Drudge and he changed his front page! Cool stuff!

  4. nvClark
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink | Reply

    Is anyone else trying to tune in to a live feed of MSNBC and having it be totally down? (not internet issues, the stream I’ve been using for the last few days doesn’t seem to be broadcasting and I’m currently streaming Fox just fine.) I’m gonna be sad if I can’t watch the trainwreck on MSNBC when the results start coming in.

  5. Blackcloud
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’d swap out Chester for Bucks in PA. More people in the latter. It wasn’t an accident Romney went there Sunday.

    Posted November 6, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink | Reply

    i Live in pinellas it looks like RR is going to win this county the repulican precincts have long lines.

  7. Big Mac
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink | Reply

    Go Florida! Go Seminoles! Woo Hoo!

  8. ShockandAwe
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink | Reply

    I live in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio in Hamilton County. NEVER in my 20 years of going to the polls on a Presidential Election Day, have I seen lines like today. All of my friends are reporting the same thing. The Catholic and Evangelical suburban voters are coming out in droves today for Mitt Romney. 550 AM Radio terms the turnout today as “epic”

      Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink | Reply


    • Ken in Bama
      Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink | Reply

      I talked to the lady here in Alabama at the voting desk…she said it looked larger than 2010 to her….hoping that trend is going in the battleground states.

      • Pa John
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        Ken…maybe in 2016 you could send some of your voters to PA
        to help us out. Roll Tide!

  9. AndyN
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink | Reply

    How about this ugly scenario…electoral college tied 269-269, Romney becomes Pres, Biden VP. Senate tied 50-50, VP Biden is the tie-breaker vote.

    • Hestrold
      Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink | Reply

      Uglier scenario is we have to go to provisional ballots in Ohio and this goes on for weeks!

      • AndyN
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:32 am | Permalink

        Maybe the recount and lawsuits will go on until December 21st and Obozo steals the election, thus fulfilling the Doomsday prophecies of Nostradamus, The Mayans and the Hopi Indians.

    • Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

      While obviously this is highly unlikely, the odds of a 50-50 Senate are not. Here is what I have been wondering. What if it is 49 R and 51 (D+I) and Romney wins the election. Should Republicans offer majority leadership position to Manchin (WV)? Isn’t a moderate better than Reid? Why would Manchin accept? For the simple reason that he is a moderate.

  10. Posted November 6, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink | Reply

    If you are looking for a bellwether county watch Vigo County Indiana. It has been voted correctly for the winning presidential candidate in every election since 1956, the longest such streak in the country. No known polling data available just hope it goes RR.

  11. Aaron
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Collier county Florida some lines not to long, but I have heard that 65% voted early. Lee county on the other hand I have seen up to 3 1/2 hours, would say twice as long as lines in 2008. In 2008 hope and change was all over Lee county now if I had to guess this county is going Romney by 75% or more.

    • Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Can someone explain why lines are always so long in FL? It is ridiculous for people to wait that long. Do they need more machines? More precincts? Why do Dems complain about the long lines, yet they are in counties they control? Does the State do the funding?

      • Aaron
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        Actually this time it is the ballot it is 8 to 12 pages long and if you have not done your homework it will take you 30+ minutes to read through the amendments.

      • Patrick
        Posted November 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Here is a link to the amendments http://www.flchamber.com/political/2012-election-center/amendments/

        Remember only the summary is on the ballot so if you did not do your homework it not only takes time to read but to decipher the legal language as well. People all around me were frustrated and talking to themselves while going through them this morning.

  12. Jefferson_Was_Right
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    While I’m trying to keep things in perspective, Ithink VA is in trouble. Turnout and voter composition for Prince William County looks exceedingly bad for Romney. I dunno about Loudoun and Fairfax, but I o know the lines were longer in those two counties compared to 2008, after talking to my co-workers. Guess I need to re-consider Singapore or something. I can’t can’t believe the cradle of liberty that was once Virginia has become this government dependent mess.

  13. ShockandAwe
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Check out Breitbart’s reporting on the GOP Tsunami across the country

One Trackback

  1. […] Chris Palko of Smart Media Group whose awesome Battleground Counties piece from April inspired the below blog post has another sharp write-up on this debate: When viewed from certain angles and in certain […]

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