In elections, candidates go where the votes are. In a statewide election, there are clearly areas that favor one party over the other. Where are those areas? And where should a candidate hoping to win in North Carolina try to max out their performance? The following is a list of counties ranked by net number of votes for Republican Mitt Romney. At the top of the list are blood-red counties where Republicans need to do well if they want to win. These are counties like Randolph, Davidson, Union – exurban areas with a lot of people.

At the bottom, there’s urban areas. Republicans mostly can’t win here anymore; their only hope is to cut down some of the huge margins that Democrats have been building up there recently. The most dangerous county for Republicans is Mecklenburg. Obama netted over 100,000 votes out of Mecklenburg County in 2012. You think it might have been a good idea for the Democrats to have their convention there? Combined, even Romney’s vote margin in his three best counties in the state couldn’t match Mecklenburg’s strength. In Randolph, Davidson, Union, and Iredell counties, Romney just barely exceed Obama’s vote margin in Mecklenburg. And even after Mecklenburg, there were still Democratic strongholds remaining such as Wake, Durham, and Guilford. Fortunately for Republicans, there were enough small, red counties that did the job for them, and Romney just narrowly eked out a victory here.

Consider also how few really big Republican counties there are. Romney’s highest margin was in Randolph County, where he netted 30,387 votes. But in five counties, Obama netted more votes than Romney did out of Randolph – each. Those were Orange (32,362 votes), Guilford (41,576 votes), Wake (55,666 votes), Durham (77,455 votes) and Mecklenburg (100,594 votes).

This illustrates the problem for Republican candidates going forward: Democrats are building up huge margins in urban areas, while red counties just aren’t growing as much. It’s possible that a decade from now, Republicans will sweep the vast majority of counties, but will lose because of Democratic strength in the I-85 corridor. There are only two solutions to this problem: (1) hope that the redder counties get bigger and stronger, or (2) become more competitive in urban areas. Republicans don’t have to win big urban counties like Wake, but they can’t afford to get blown out, especially as these areas continue to grow in size and importance.

Notice also the lack of importance of the heavily African American counties in the Northeastern part of the state. On a map, they’re very blue, but their population is relatively tiny compared to the huge urban counties. However, Democrats still need to do well here, because statewide wins, especially in federal races, leave little room for error.

The top ten counties for both Obama and Romney, by net vote margin (blue = Obama; red = Romney)

The top ten counties for both Obama and Romney, by net vote margin (blue = Obama; red = Romney)

nc county strength

John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: johncwynne@gmail.com.

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