The 8 Key Places That Will Explain The 2020 Election
Pueblo, Colo., home to famous chilies, a steel mill and strong union ties, is working to diversify its economy.
In Charlotte, N.C., NASCAR has taken a back seat to financial services as the population booms with immigrants and Northeastern transplants.
Wisconsin is deeply purple and up for grabs — and eyes are on its large cities like Milwaukee this election.
Many of America's communities are changing, and so is how voters decide what matters most to them and whom they want their leaders to be.
Other areas are growing more deeply rooted in their own values. In Pensacola, Fla., which WUWF's Tom Ninestine describes as having a "heart as big as their love of Old Glory and the military," residents steadily deliver Republicans solid support and will likely do the same this year.
NPR and our member stations will listen to where you are this election. Our hosts and reporters are crossing the country and diving deep into your — and our — communities to listen to the issues that keep you up at night and learn how they are shaping your choices this election.
We are focusing on some key places that hold significance this election cycle (of course there are many more!), which we introduce you to below.
Join us all year at NPR.org, across our broadcast programs, on our podcasts and Instagram to see and hear where voters are.
North Carolina is becoming a purple state — a target for Democrats and a must-win for Republicans. And much of the change has been driven by a surge in growth in the state's metro areas, including the largest city, Charlotte.
Once reliably Republican, Charlotte has been transformed by an influx of immigrants, along with migration from the Northeast United States.
In the 2016 election, precincts that had voted for Republicans for decades went for Hillary Clinton, and that trend continued in the 2018 midterms.
The city was once known as the home of NASCAR, but racing has taken a back seat to financial services in recent decades — Bank of America and Wells Fargo employ tens of thousands of people in Charlotte. But just as Charlotte has become a blue stronghold, the outlying, more rural counties have become increasingly Republican.
The result is that Charlotte is often on the front lines of the culture wars in the state and the nation — for example, the fight over transgender bathroom access four years ago. As a sign of how important the city — and state — are to the GOP, the Republican National Convention will be in Charlotte in August. — Steve Harrison, WFAE Political Reporter
The Dallas-Fort Worth area is home to some of the fastest-growing cities and suburbs in the country.
Texas Democrats hope to capitalize on changing demographics, especially in the sprawling suburbs surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth, to gain ground at the Texas Capitol in Austin and in Congress. Republicans, spurred by the thin margins that many GOP incumbents received in the last election, are mobilizing a massive voter engagement effort to gin up turnout and recruit more voters to their side.
In Texas, the biggest prize in 2020 is not at the top of the ticket. Republican Sen. John Cornyn is running for re-election, but the race is failing to generate the buzz of the 2018 Senate contest. That's when former Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke attracted national headlines for challenging Republican Sen. Ted Cruz — a race Cruz won by just 2.6 percentage points. (A Texas Democrat hasn't won a statewide race since the early 1990s.)
Political watchers are focused further down the ballot, on statehouse seats. Democrats need just nine more seats to win control of the Texas House for the first time since 2001, giving them a seat at the table for the once-a-decade redrawing of the state's political maps. Their pathway may lead through the North Texas region, home to nearly half of the districts Democrats are targeting.
Democrats have been gaining ground in North Texas. In 2018, they knocked out a longtime GOP congressman, picked up two state Senate districts and a half-dozen state House seats, outshining Democratic wins in other parts of the state. — Christopher Connelly, KERA Reporter
Wisconsin is a key state in the path to victory in the 2020 presidential race.
It's deeply purple and up for grabs.
Since Donald Trump edged out Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by fewer than 25,000 votes, the political world has been talking about what it will take to win the state in 2020.
For Democrats, winning Wisconsin hinges on turning out high numbers of voters in the state's largest cities — Milwaukee and Madison. These urban population centers are among the bluest parts of the state.
Republicans carry the state when the party's conservative base in the "WOW" counties — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — surrounding Milwaukee are motivated to get to the polls. Or, so much of the conventional thinking goes.
But with many recent statewide elections won by slim margins, both parties are saying they'll fight for votes in even these strongholds.
To motivate Milwaukeeans, candidates must appeal to a pool of voters that is starkly different from the rest of the state. Wisconsin is more than 80% white, but Milwaukee has long been a majority-minority city. Nearly 40% of Milwaukee's residents are African American and almost 20% are Hispanic.
Every vote will count, of course. But the investments that the campaigns make in certain areas could be especially important.
Milwaukee saw a decline in turnout from 2012 to 2016 of 41,000 voters. So if a Democratic candidate could invigorate many of those voters who stayed home, that could be decisive. In July, the Democratic National Convention will come to Milwaukee, in part with the hope of energizing some of those voters.
Meanwhile, the state's Republican Party has opened its first field office in the city — on its predominantly African American North Side.
As this plays out, the role Wisconsin's voter ID law has had in suppressing or turning out voters is also still up for debate. Supporters say same-day registration and free voter IDs make those concerns moot, but larger cities have expanded early voting with an eye toward combating what they insist is an effort to depress turnout among voters of color and those who are younger and lower income.
Orange County, Calif.
Orange County Democrats are patting themselves on the back these days for turning the longtime Republican stronghold blue. Republicans there lost congressional districts in 2018, and the number of registered Democrats in the county recently overtook Republicans for the first time since the 1970s.
"The state of our party is stronger than ever," Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, recently said.
That change was, in part, ushered in by recent demographic shifts – especially a growing share of Latino and Asian residents.
But nothing is a done deal. Democrats also acknowledge they'll have to "recruit and fight like hell" to keep up their momentum, as Democratic Rep. Gil Cisneros put it.
Republicans in the county say they are also fired up, especially those who opposed President Trump's impeachment trial.
"[I]t's not a moderate thing to do," said Randall Avila, executive director of the Orange County GOP. "I don't see [Democrats] addressing the issues that Orange County families really are focused on and care about." — Libby Denkmann, KPCC Politics Reporter
"Pensacola is the western gate to the Sunshine State" was a greeting beloved former Mayor Vince Whibbs gave to visitors for years. It's a patriotic community, with the largest concentration of military veterans in any congressional district. Here, you would be hard-pressed to pass five houses without seeing a flag flying properly.
Northwest Floridians have a heart as big as their love of Old Glory and the military. Here, you'll see dozens of cars pulled over to pay respect as a funeral procession passes.
In an era when states move from red to purple or purple to blue, the Republican Party can count on Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties in Northwest Florida to deliver solid support. This is a fiercely conservative area that adored both Bush presidencies and Sen. John McCain and packed the Pensacola Bay Center every time Donald Trump campaigned here. He carried Escambia County 58% to 37% in the 2016 election, when voter turnout was 74%. In Santa Rosa County, Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 3-to-1 ratio and 74% voted for Trump in 2016. In Okaloosa County, Trump outpolled Hillary Clinton 70% to 23%, with 75% turnout. Expect similar results in November. -- Tom Ninestine, WUWF Managing Editor
Pueblo, Colo., is a city of about 100,000 situated two hours south of Denver with a unique brand of politics. The Democratic region has backed Republicans for federal office in recent years, including Donald Trump, though he lost in Colorado overall. It's home to the Colorado State Fair and Rodeo, and the state's famous Pueblo chilies. It's known for its steel mill and proximity to rivers and outdoor recreation. This region with strong ties to organized labor is working to diversify its economy as steel jobs decline.
Pueblo County was first in the state to set a 100% renewable energy goal. But the community has challenges. The violent crime rate has grown 21% from 2014 to 2018. Police-involved shootings in the city doubled, from three in 2014 to six last year.
More than half of Pueblo's residents are Latino, and Democratic voters outnumber Republicans. In 2013, Pueblo voters recalled a Democratic state lawmaker for supporting stricter gun laws in the wake of the mass shooting at a theater in Aurora, about two hours away. In 2018, two years after narrowly backing Trump, Pueblo handily supported Democrat Jared Polis for governor. The former congressman from Boulder became the country's first openly gay man elected to be governor. — Bente Birkeland, Colorado Public Radio News Public Affairs Reporter
Pennsylvania's swing state status was cemented in 2016 when Donald Trump eked out a win by 1% of the vote. Before his victory, George H.W. Bush was the last Republican president to win the commonwealth, though Pennsylvania has still been considered enough of a battleground in most elections for GOP presidential candidates to spend time and money here.
During Trump's term, national politics has played a much larger role in Pennsylvania, as groups gearing up for 2020 have spent time and money trying to build momentum for this election.
The suburbs around Philadelphia had been growing less and less Republican over the decades, but Democrats are hoping the 2018 and 2019 elections were the tipping points for making those areas blue. In 2018, four Democratic women won congressional seats, most of them from the Philly suburbs. And the delegation is now evenly split with nine from each party in the U.S. House. In 2019 local elections, governments in three suburban counties flipped from Republican to Democrat – one for the first time since the Civil War.
President Trump's support in Pennsylvania doesn't follow strict party lines. Those who flock to his rallies (he has held at least seven here since his election) include voters who like his brash style and those who may not, but credit him with adding jobs and making the stock market soar.
When Trump makes his pitch to African American voters, he often does it in Pennsylvania. He made a high-profile trip to Philly in September 2016 to try to attract African American voters. And his supporters have been organizing in the city, even though Democrats outnumber Republicans about 7-to-1 in Philadelphia. — Eugene Sonn, WHYYNews Director
Southwest Washington State
Southwest Washington state is a part of the country that has shifted over the past 30 years from a reliably blue Democratic area of working and middle-class voters to a solidly purple region that significantly favored Donald Trump in 2016.
That shift can be partly attributed to job decline in traditional Western extractive industries, such as timber and mining. In recent years, there have also been clashes over culture as rising housing costs along the West Coast have pushed urban residents from Seattle as well as Oregon and California into the quickly growing region. At the same time, Clark County — Southwest Washington's most populous county — has seen significant growth in white-collar sectors like technology and finance.
Southwest Washington has its own political and cultural history, but it is increasingly defined on some issues by its proximity to the booming growth of Portland, Ore. In 2020, political disputes are likely to arise from efforts to replace the Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River — the single largest chokepoint for travel and commerce along the West Coast.
The mix of voters in Southwest Washington is likely to also make 2020 another closely contested year, not only in presidential politics but also in Washington state's 3rd Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is the only Hispanic woman among Republican members of the House, and she has been forced at times throughout the Trump administration to maintain a difficult balance of supporting a president who is very popular in rural parts of her district while also being independent enough to not lose the urban core that makes up the bulk of voters.
Herrera Beutler has easily held the 3rd congressional district since 2010, but faced a noteworthy challenge from Democrat Carolyn Long's inaugural campaign in 2018. Long, a teacher and political scientist, already has significant fundraising to make a 2020 rematch even more competitive. -- Ryan Haas, Oregon Public Broadcasting News Editor
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.