The six bellwether counties of 2014

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • The counties that have gone with, or could go with, the winner
  • Taking a closer look at Georgia demographics
  • Kentucky coal vs. Liberal Louisville
  • The Democratic firewall keys
  • Louisiana’s legacy

Some of us can’t wait for Election Night. Instead of pundit talk, and talk of polls, trends and history, we get actual raw vote. People will render their judgment. There’s a lot to keep track of, especially for what to watch in the race for the Senate. There are several counties to watch in several key states, but let’s take a look at possible bellwethers in six key states. These counties may not reflect the perfect or closest match to the statewide results in every instance, but they are close and, importantly, they have enough votes to matter. Here’s a look by poll-closing time:


GEORGIA: Georgia is a state that has seen huge demographic changes over the past 10 years. The state has gone from 70 percent white, 30 percent non-white in 1990 to 55-45 percent today. Because of that, an unemployment rate that is the highest in the country at 7.9 percent, and missteps by the Republican Senate candidate, Democrats are hopeful about picking this one off. It is the most competitive state of the key Senate races, based on the Real Clear Politics average. No place are those demographic changes more pronounced than in Metro Atlanta, where several counties have seen a doubling of minority voters over a decade. But even though Democrats need to get minority voters out, Michelle Nunn, D, can’t ignore Southern rural white counties. Consider: The last Democrat to win a U.S. Senate seat was Max Cleland in 1996. In a very close race, and before the demographic changes, he won nearly all of those Southern majority-white districts.

The Bellwether — Gwinnett (Metro Atlanta): Gwinnett is potentially an emerging bellwether. Consider this: In 2012, even though President Obama lost Georgia by more than in 2008, when he lost it by just 5 points, he actually did BETTER in this populous Atlanta suburb, long a Republican stronghold. The thing to watch Tuesday is David Perdue’s, R, margin here:
2012 — Romney 54-45 | Statewide: Romney 53-45
2008 — McCain 55-44 | Statewide: McCain 42-47

KENTUCKY: No state is closer watched because of Mitch McConnell, who would be majority leader if Republicans take back the Senate. Despite his 30-year tenure in the Senate, McConnell has struggled to retain his seat. He won just 53-46 percent for reelection in 2008, and his favorability ratings continue to suffer. The areas to watch here are coal country vs. liberal Louisville and Lexington, where the University of Kentucky is. Jack Conway, D, in 2010 actually got almost a quarter of his entire vote total from Jefferson and Fayette counties, where Louisville and Lexington are, respectively. Because of their size, though, watch McConnell’s vote totals in those two places, too. Jefferson is the top vote-getting county for Republicans in addition to Democrats. Alison Lundergan Grimes, D, needs to run up the score there to have a chance, but she can’t get blown out in the coal-rich Eastern part of the state. Watch Pike County, the most populous of the coal counties, which went 51-49 percent for Rand Paul in 2010.

The Bellwether — Daviess (Owensboro): Daviess closely mirrored Paul’s result in 2010, McConnell’s in 2008 and Jim Bunning’s, R, 1-point statewide win in 2004:
2010 — Paul 55-45 | Statewide: Paul 56-44
2008 — McConnell 52-48 | Statewide: McConnell 53-47
2004 — Bunning 51-49 | Statewide: Bunning 51-49


NORTH CAROLINA: Like Georgia and Virginia, North Carolina represents the Emerging South. It has already seen big demographic changes in its Research Triangle, evidenced by Barack Obama winning the state in 2008. It’s changed so much that we have to put a long-held truth to rest — that Wake County is a swing county. It’s not anymore. Though Romney won the state by 2 points in 2012, President Obama won Wake by 4 points. Still, the white vote margin might still be most telling between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis.

The Bellwether — Watauga (Western mountains): This county that borders Tennessee has gone with the winner in each of the presidential and Senate races over the last decade:
2012 — Romney 50-47 | Statewide: Romney 50-48
2010 — Burr 55-43 | Statewide: Burr 55-43
2008 — Obama 51-47 | Statewide: Obama 50-49
2008 — Hagan 51-44 | Statewide: Hagan 53-44
2004 — Bush 53-47 | Statewide: Bush 56-44


COLORADO: It’s remarkable that President Obama has not campaigned in either Colorado, the place where he accepted the 2008 presidential nomination, or Iowa, the state that launched his candidacy in the 2008 caucuses. Democrat Mark Udall, like most Democrats, needs to do well in Denver, but the real key is the swing Denver suburbs.

The Bellwether — Jefferson (Denver suburbs): Populous Jefferson County, just west of Denver, has voted with the exact margin (within tenths of points) in all four of the big races there since 2008:
2012 — Obama 51-46 | Statewide: Obama 51-46
2010 — Bennet 48-46 | Statewide: Bennet 48-46
2008 — Obama 54-45 | Statewide: Obama 54-45
2008 — Udall 53-42 | Statewide: Udall 53-42

IOWA: The Hawkeye State has been much more friendly territory to Democrats in recent years than many of the other competitive Senate races we’re watching on Election Night. But it is a swing state — George W. Bush won it in 2004 and Barack Obama won it twice in 2008 and 2012. Bruce Braley, like President Obama, would have to do well in Des Moines (Polk) and Davenport (Johnston), and Republicans have to clean up in the less populated, more rural counties, and in particular in the Western part of the state, in places like Sioux.

The Bellwether — Cedar (Eastern): Cedar has gone with the winner of every Iowa presidential and Senate winner since 1992. That’s 13-for-the-last-13 elections. The results have all remarkably mirrored the statewide results. Take a look at the last five presidential elections, for example:
2012 — Obama 52-47 | Statewide: Obama 52-46
2008 — Obama 54-44 | Statewide: Obama 54-44
2004 — Bush 50-49 | Statewide: Bush 50-49
2000 — Gore 48.3-48.1 | Statewide: Gore 48.5-48.2
1996 — Clinton 50-39 | Statewide: Clinton 50-40

LOUISIANA: Sen. Mary Landrieu, D, is no stranger to close races or to runoffs. But this year might be different. While this race is almost certainly headed to a Dec. 6 runoff, polls show Landrieu trailing Rep. Bill Cassidy in a head-to-head. Part of Landrieu’s problem in this runoff as compared to past years is that it’s not clear where the vote would come from to put her over the top. Operatives on both sides point to the post-Katrina exodus of many traditional Landrieu base voters as one reason.

The Bellwether — Jefferson (New Orleans suburb): Landrieu’s family is from the New Orleans area. Her brother is the current New Orleans mayor; her father is a past one. So, the swing area of Jefferson, just outside New Orleans could be key. It went for Landrieu in her close 2008 reelection, 52-46 percent, mirroring her statewide result. But there are plenty of conservatives there, too, as it also went for John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012:
2008 — Landrieu 52-46 | Statewide: Landrieu 52-46
2002 — Landrieu 56-44 | Statewide: Landrieu 52-48
2012 — Romney 58-40 | Statewide: Romney 58-41


  • President Obama campaigns for Democrats in Portland, Maine, and Providence, Rhode Island, Thursday. Michael Beschloss and The Washington Post’s Dan Balz discussed the president’s midterm travels with Gwen Ifill on Wednesday’s NewsHour.
  • Amid rumors of a White House shake-up, President Obama is leaning more than ever on his small circle of advisers.
  • North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan leads Republican State House Leader Thom Tillis 45 to 41 percent in an Elon University poll released Thursday.
  • Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner leads Sen. Mark Udall 46 to 39 percent in a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday.
  • Hillary Clinton campaigned in Iowa for Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley Wednesday.
  • National Democrats and state affiliates are employing racially charged messages — about Trayvon Martin’s death or Ferguson, for example — to motivate African-American voters.
  • Local politicking is now just a memory in Louisiana, where a more nationalized Senate race is leaving voters unenthused.
  • Early voting among Georgia whites is down, but up among Georgia blacks. And in North Carolina, Democrats are casting lots of early votes.
  • Democrats are losing ground with young voters, compared to where they stood in previous cycles, according to a Harvard Institute of Politics poll.
  • Gardner has released his first Spanish-language ad.
  • In Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, “the hardest-working House candidates in the country” are gearing up for their first Spanish-language debate – never mind that the GOP incumbent didn’t even speak Spanish this time last cycle.
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce cast Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in their latest ad for Iowa Republican Joni Ernst. Paul is also appearing in Chamber ads for Republicans in New Hampshire.
  • In an impromptu press conference Wednesday, Eliot Cutler, Maine’s Independent candidate for governor, said, “I am realist about my chances,” and urged voters to “vote their conscience” if they fear he’s going to lose. But Cutler, who’s been trailing in the polls, stopped short of dropping out.
  • Later Wednesday, Independent Sen. Angus King switched his endorsement from Cutler to Democrat Mike Michaud.
  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is making a last-minute investment on behalf of two candidates and expanding spending on five others.
  • Economic indicators may be improving, but voters aren’t feeling it, and incumbent governors — Republican and Democrats — are feeling the anger.
  • In Florida’s governor’s race, former Gov. Charlie Crist enjoys a narrow lead over GOP Gov. Rick Scott, 43 to 40 percent, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Thursday. The Libertarian carries 8 percent.
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leads Democrat Mary Burke 50 to 43 percent in a Marquette University poll released Wednesday.
  • Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder leads Democrat Mark Schauer 45 to 43 percent in a poll conducted for the Detroit Free Press.
  • The anti-corruption Moreland Commission that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo created and is now being investigated for interfering with is not the only commission he’s tampered with.
  • In a Massachusetts gubernatorial debate earlier this week, the candidates were asked about the last time they cried. But 42 years after Ed Muskie blamed falling snow for his waterworks, do tears help or hurt on the campaign trail?
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


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