Politico’s Charlie Mahtesian asks an interesting question: did Donald Trump perform well in traditional battleground counties? It sounds like an odd thing to ask after having, y’know, won the election. It’s like worrying about who won the rushing-yardage edge after an NFL team won a Super Bowl by three touchdowns.
It matters, though, for the same reason that NFL teams look at game film even when winning the biggest contest of all. They do it to prepare for the next season — and especially for elections which may not feature charismatic celebrities as candidates. Did Trump improve in areas where Republicans will need to compete in future elections, or did his victory come from models that might be difficult to repeat? Did Hillary Clinton just do worse? The answers seem to be a few, mostly, and definitely.
Mahtesian takes a look at sixteen key battleground communities, while my book Going Red highlighted seven. Some are on both lists, although Mahtesian doesn’t entirely restrict himself to counties. Let’s take a look at the Going Red counties, 2016’s outcomes, and compare the results to 2012 and Mahtesian’s analysis:
Hillsborough County, FL – This county has been a bellwether of the I-4 Corridor, the battleground for the entire state. Obama won it by seven in 2012, and so did Hillary on Tuesday. But Pinellas flipped to Trump, a six-point switch, a nice pickup for the GOP. In the end, though, it was a base turnout in northern and mid-northern Florida that won the state for Trump, Mahtesian writes, which suggests that future Republicans will need to work harder to compete.
Hamilton County, OH – Trump actually did worse in the Cincinnati area (43/53) than Romney did (47/52). Rob Portman cruised to a 54/42 win in Hamilton, so the votes are there for a Republican presidential candidate to win. However, Trump again turned out voters better than Hillary did in Ohio and made things close in Mahoning, the county Mahtesian cites as key. He still lost by three points, but he vastly outperformed Romney, who lost Mahoning by 28.
Wake County, NC – Both Mathesian and I focus on this as a bellwether. Obama won it by ten over Romney, which was bad enough, but Trump lost it by 20. (Senate candidate Richard Burr lost it by 14 as well on his way to winning the state.) Mahtesian chalks up the loss on voting restrictions that impacted the black vote, but it seems more likely that Hillary just never generated the enthusiastic turnout Obama did — while Trump was getting better-than-usual turnout in suburban and rural areas.
Prince William County, VA – Mahtesian takes a broader look at Northern Virginia (NOVA) rather than just PWC, and Hillary Clinton did well enough to overcome a Trump surge in rural ROVA. Trump lost the state by five points, and lost PWC by 20, slightly worse than Romney’s sixteen-point loss in 2012.
Brown County, WI – Trump actually underperformed in the so-called WOW counties of Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington, but so did Hillary in the key counties of Dane and Milwaukee. Trump trounced Hillary in Brown by eleven points, however — exactly the kind of gap I predicted in Going Red that could flip the state.
Jefferson County,CO – Trump never put a serious effort into Colorado, and it showed. Romney lost Jeffco by four, Trump lost it by seven. He only lost the state by two points — Gary Johnson got to 4.9% — which shows that this still could have been won, especially with Trump’s potential in the eastern rural counties. The county’s “significant Hispanic population … made [it] an uphill challenge” for Trump, Mahtesian notes. Future Republicans should also take note of that, and the opportunities that still exist in this Interior West state.
Hillsborough County, NH – Trump succeeded in winning this county back but only by 0.3%, and it appears that Hillary won the state. Trump also won back Sullivan and Coos. The state is still settling its accounts, but there seems to be some turnout dynamics that aren’t necessarily similar to what we saw in the rest of the country.
In the end, Trump won. If he runs again in four years, though, he will have to either recreate a similar dynamic or find a way to compete in these battlegrounds. It’s difficult for an incumbent to generate outsider credibility, although not impossible. Certainly after this cycle, no one will claim anything’s impossible for Trump. But in the after-Trump period, Republicans will need to have built more competitive positions in these battlegrounds if they want to keep winning.
Update: I had NV instead of NC following Wake County. My apologies, and thanks to Carleton on Twitter for pointing it out. I also edited the lead sentence for better clarity.