Dec 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

GOP's 4 must-win counties for 2024

Illustration of topographical maps of Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Wisconsin with stars over them against a striped background

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In the four battleground states likely to decide the outcome of the next presidential election, clawing back swing-voter support in the suburbs will be the key to unlocking a Republican revival.

Why it matters: Republicans lost six of the eight Senate and governor's races in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in 2022. A suburban bellwether county in each of these states could make all the difference for the GOP in 2024.

1. Bucks County, Pennsylvania: The epicenter of any GOP comeback in Pennsylvania starts in Bucks County. One of the only bright spots for Republicans in Pennsylvania is that moderate Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) easily won re-election, even as the county he represents swung blue.

  • Sen.-elect John Fetterman (D-Pa.) won 52% of the vote in Bucks, while Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro (D-Pa.) scored a whopping 59%.
  • Outgoing Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) won Bucks by five points in 2016, but former President Trump and Trump-aligned candidates have been tough sells to voters here.

2. Brown County, Wisconsin: Centered in Green Bay, the fourth-most populous county in Wisconsin doesn't get as much attention as those including Milwaukee and Madison — but its competitive nature is pivotal to any GOP candidate's prospects.

  • Both Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and losing GOP gubernatorial nominee Tim Michels carried Brown, but Johnson's double-digit margin there made the difference in his close race. Michels led Gov. Tony Evers (D-Wis.) by only five points.
  • Former Gov. Scott Walker carried Brown County by 17 (!) points in his 2014 election, and even won by eight points in his unsuccessful 2018 campaign.

3. Cobb County, Georgia: This was once former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's rock-ribbed Republican home base, but now it's a fast-growing, diversifying and affluent corner of suburban Atlanta that has favored Democrats in the Trump era.

  • Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) trounced Republican Herschel Walker by 20 points in Cobb during the runoff, even as Republican Gov. Brian Kemp lost the county by only five points.
  • Just a decade ago, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried Cobb County by 12 points.

4. Maricopa County, Arizona: The population center of Arizona covers both the city of Phoenix and its expansive suburbs. Once a GOP stronghold, the battleground county has become the focus of the election denial movement that Trump has championed.

  • Maricopa still has Republican DNA: It backed Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and Gov. Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.) won 56% of the vote here in 2018. But suburban voters in affluent areas like Scottsdale have been deeply resistant to extreme, MAGA-oriented candidates.
  • The problem for Republicans in Maricopa isn't that their voters aren't turning out: 75% of registered Republicans voted, compared with 69% of Democrats, according to a New York Times analysis.
  • Rather, it's that a sizable share of independents are swinging toward Democrats. According to the AP VoteCast exit poll, independents backed Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs (D-Ariz.) by 30 points over Trump-endorsed Kari Lake, and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) by 36 points over Trump-endorsed Blake Masters.

The bottom line: "You’re going to have your soccer moms and Peloton dads. Those college-educated voters, specifically in the suburbs, are ones that Republicans have to learn how to win," Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's campaign strategist Kristin Davison told the New York Times.

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