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The State of: the Battleground States and Counties to Watch

News / The State October 27, 2020

Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" various aspects of the 2020 campaign season, including the race for the White House and key elections around the country.

On election night, most everyone will be watching the election map to see which states turn red or blue. In states with an overwhelming majority of either Democratic or Republican voters, these answers are somewhat predetermined. For example, California’s and New York’s large proportion of Democratic voters will likely turn those states blue, while solidly Republican Alabama and North Dakota will almost certainly go red. Well aware of this, both campaigns are focusing their time, money and energy on the battleground states that ultimately decide the winner and loser of this grand game.

Election night watchers will also be focused on the battleground states. As the hours go by, the returns will be tabulated, and projections will be made. Like Cinderella at the ball and the clock striking midnight, one by one, the states will turn blue or turn red, and the party will be over for the loser – just beginning for the winner.

According to The Guardian, there are eight states where the voters will decide our next president: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona, Wisconsin and Iowa. This is a sizable number of states. Only a few months ago Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa weren’t thought to be in play.

These eight states are getting the full force of both the Biden and Trump campaign efforts. This includes well-planned visits by the candidates, hundreds of paid campaign workers on the ground, thousands of volunteers, and millions of dollars spent on TV, social media and text messaging services.

What isn’t so well known to the casual observer is the fact that within each of these battleground states, the battle lines are drawn county by county. In these battleground states, many counties are predetermined, like a New York or a North Dakota might be. Urban counties that encompass a large city tend to vote Democratic. A good example is Dane County, Wisconsin, where the University of Wisconsin is located. In 2016 over 70% of the votes cast in Dane County, went to Hillary Clinton. Similarly, the rural voters of Sumner County, located just south of Wichita, Kansas, cast 70% of their votes for Trump in 2016.

Battleground states have now become battleground counties: both sides willingly conceding some territory, which is measured in fractions of votes. But there are a number of counties that both campaigns have their eyes on because ultimately a win there is the chance to win the state’s electoral college votes. These large campaigns have turned into a pair of sumo wrestlers, each trying to push the other out of the small ring.

On election night, keep an eye on the battleground states but stay focused on the battleground counties and as they turn red or blue – you’ll see the rest of the state turn with it. Political handicappers give us the counties to watch. Here is their outlook.

Charlie Cook and 10 counties to watch – “In an era of stark political polarization, it is difficult to find any one place that is a true microcosm of the country. But it is possible to find places on which the November election pivots.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer – The counties surrounding Philadelphia may be the key to victory

The Wall Street Journal - Older Voters in Florida Could Be Key to the 2020 Election/Lee County.

The Hill - Interviews with two dozen strategists, political scientists and observers show the 10 counties across the country that will determine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

The Chicago Tribune - Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Florida: The 9 counties that could decide a presidential election


Randy Dwyer is director, advocacy & grassroots development

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