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The Battle for Iowa: Battleground Counties — Today’s Must Read

Normally in any given state we like to focus on a handful of the key populous counties that will swing this year’s election.  The Des Moines Register lays out all 12 counties in Iowa that are Battlegrounds this year including this super-cool interactive map with voting results of every county in Iowa:

 The Des Moines Register examined a dozen swing counties that have seesawed from Republican to Democratic, home to ticket-splitting voters that both presidential campaigns desperately want to win over this fall. Polling data for Iowa is scarce, but a rolling average shows a stubborn tie between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney. Such a tight race means a cache of votes here or there will save or kill a campaign. Both sides see opportunity in Iowa’s rural counties this cycle — Democrats in independent female voters and Republicans in white men without college degrees. The unemployment rate in Iowa’s 12 hottest swing counties ranges from 3.7 percent (Carroll) to 7.5 percent (Hamilton). Across the board, county leaders agree, the shaky state of the national economy is Obama’s biggest vulnerability.

And as Iowa looks at a stunted crop this fall, if not crop failure, voters will be focused on the drought’s impact on their local economies, and the government’s response.
This cycle, the GOP feels confident Mitt Romney will win many 2008 Obama counties — such as those he won by 1 point or less, including Warren, Hamilton, Iowa, Hardin and Franklin. Democratic strategists see gold in Muscatine, Wapello, Clinton and Des Moines counties — all fervently Democratic. The Democrats have opened offices there this cycle, as well as in all the bigger urban counties, where Obama will need to pile up huge surpluses to offset less favorable counties. Not every county in purple Iowa is competitive. Some could be called right now: Johnson, Des Moines and Lee will be safely in Obama’s column on Nov. 6, and Sioux, Lyon and Osceola will be safely in Romney’s. But some, like the dozen key “swingers” featured here, shift from D to R depending on the candidate, pet issues, hot local races and attention from the campaigns.

Although each county listed is hotly contested, not everyone would be considered a Battleground county under the auspices by which I refer to them.  Battleground counties, for our purposes, are both hotly contested counties and are heavily populated enough to swing the electoral balance in the state. For example, Scott County alone had nearly the same aggregate vote total in 2008 (85,292 votes cast for both Obama and McCain) as the bottom 9 counties combined (84,904 votes cast). So Scott County is clearly a Battleground County for our purposes while Greene County (4,720 votes cast) would not be. But even though not every county fits my definition, in this closely contested election, each is clearly a 2012 battleground as Jennifer Jacobs tremendously demonstrates. Here is the county by county breakdown reordered by aggregate vote total:

Scott — 85,292 total votes for Obama/McCain in 2008

  • Trend in last four presidential races: Dem by 9 points, Dem by 4 points, Dem by 3 points, Dem by 15 points.
  • Scott is a Democratic county and a big union county. But Branstad has never lost here, and Romney beat his GOP rivals here in the caucuses.
  • Iowa’s east coast counties — Scott, Muscatine, Clinton and Jackson among them — figured prominently in the Bush-Gore contest. Scott is an expensive battleground, where campaigns are forced by the border-state TV market to spend money advertising to already-decided Illinois.
  • Obama is amassing a battalion here, made up of neighborhood team leaders and support volunteers, who are called “core team members.”
  • Scott is more competitive than Democratic strategists might like to admit. The county government has a GOP lean. Four of the five countywide supervisors are Republicans, and so are two of the three state senators.
  • Scott is also GOP congressional challenger John Archer’s best bet for a strong showing. And Romney’s state chairman lives in Scott, where he’s leading a strong organization.

Woodbury — 44, 202 total votes for Obama/McCain in 2008

  • Trend in last four presidential races: Dem by 2 points, GOP by 3 points, GOP by 2 points, GOP by 1 point.
  • This is an urban river county where three states come together, and voters worry about competing with neighbors for jobs. Both Nebraska and South Dakota have lower income taxes, but Iowa has a more favorable sales tax.
  • It’s in the heart of Iowa’s red west, but unlike Pottawattamie to the south, it’s an outpost of urban Democrats.
  • Democrats recently opened a campaign headquarters here — in a Hispanic neighborhood in Sioux City. Woodbury Republicans opened theirs with Sam Clovis, a popular conservative radio host, officiating.
  • If congressional challenger Christie Vilsack can make a run of it here, her influence will energize the Democrats, politics watchers said.
  • Independent voters — a third of the electorate — will be the deciders this year, said Linda Holub, co-chair of the Woodbury GOP. Health care and federal debt top the issues list.

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