Fifteen Iowa counties to watch on election night

Every Iowan’s vote counts the same in determining whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will win our state’s six electoral votes.

I’ll be watching the returns from some of our 99 counties more closely than others.

1) Polk

Iowa’s largest county is home to about one in six state residents and about one in seven registered Iowa voters. Polk was one of two Iowa counties to make a list of 25 “battleground counties to watch” nationally, compiled in August by Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn, Katie Glueck, Kyle Cheney and Daniel Strauss.

Winning Polk County by a large margin will be critically important to Hillary Clinton and to Jim Mowrer, who is challenging first-term Representative David Young in Iowa’s third Congressional district.

The county including most of the Des Moines metro area also has the state’s largest number of Latino, African-American, and Asian-American residents.

• 2012 presidential vote: 128,465 (55.8 percent) for Barack Obama, 96,096 (41.8 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 44,379 D, 24,319 R, 16,214 no-party, 355 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 112,448 active Democrats, 86,396 Republicans, 82,877 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 102,979 Democrats, 82,240 Republicans, 77,249 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 78.8 percent, Latino 8.2 percent, African-American 6.7 percent, Asian-American 4.3 percent

• Education: 35.4 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 12.0 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $59,844 (For Iowa: $52,716)

• Key down-ballot races: More than half the voters in Iowa’s third Congressional district, where GOP incumbent Young faces Mowrer, live in Polk County. Among the many Iowa legislative races here, two have spurred big spending on television commercials: House district 43 (Chris Hagenow vs. Jennifer Konfrst) and House district 42 (Peter Cownie vs. Claire Celsi).

2) Linn

Iowa’s second-largest county contains the Cedar Rapids metro area.

• 2012 presidential vote: 68,581 (57.8 percent) for Barack Obama, 47,622 (40.1 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 19,405 D, 11,184 R, 11,059 no-party, 217 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 49,176 active Democrats, 37,711 Republicans, 47,895 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 49,485 Democrats, 38,557 Republicans, 50,550 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 87.5 percent, Latino 3.0 percent, African-American 4.7 percent, Asian-American 2.4 percent

• Education: 31.7 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 14.7 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $59,560 (For Iowa: $52,716)

• Key down-ballot races: Millions of dollars have been spent on the first Congressional district race, where first-term Representative Rod Blum faces Democratic challenger Monica Vernon. Both parties have spent lots of money in Iowa Senate district 34, as well as House district 68, which covers one half of that Senate district. The open House district 95 is also a targeted race.

3) Scott

The state’s third-largest county, containing the Iowa side of the Quad Cities, also made Politico’s list of 25 “battleground counties to watch.”

• 2012 presidential vote: 50,652 (56.0 percent) for Barack Obama, 38,251 (42.3 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 16,478 D, 12,578 R, 11,782 no-party, 170 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 37,292 active Democrats, 32,914 Republicans, 45,178 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 35,239 Democrats, 30,334 Republicans, 44,505 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 80.9 percent, Latino 6.4 percent, African-American 7.6 percent, Asian-American 2.7 percent

• Education: 31.9 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 14.8 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $53,704 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: Among the many state legislative districts in this county, two have attracted the most attention. Iowa House district 92 has changed hands four times in the last five general elections. If the pattern holds, it’s GOP State Representative Ross Paustian’s turn to lose this year. This House district makes up half of Senate district 46, and Democratic Senator Chris Brase will need a big margin in Scott County to survive a challenge from Mark Lofgren.

4) Johnson

Iowa’s fourth-largest county is the state’s best Democratic performer, the only one to vote for Jack Hatch in the 2014 gubernatorial election. The Iowa City area and especially the University of Iowa community was a strong base for Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, and Clinton needs those voters to support her rather than sitting out this election or backing a third-party candidate.

• 2012 presidential vote: 50,666 (66.5 percent) for Barack Obama, 23,698 (31.1 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 24,293 D, 6,777 R, 9,136 no-party, 250 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 43,901 active Democrats, 19,232 Republicans, 27,887 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 39,967 Democrats, 18,801 Republicans, 31,471 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 80.0 percent, Latino 5.5 percent, African-American 6.1 percent, Asian-American 6.4 percent

• Education: 51.7 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 10.4 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $54,985 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: None of the state legislative races here is a targeted race. Democrat Amy Nielsen is favored to win the open House district 77.

5) Black Hawk

The state’s fifth-largest county includes the Waterloo/Cedar Falls metro area and the University of Northern Iowa.

• 2012 presidential vote: 39,821 (59.0 percent) for Barack Obama, 26,235 (38.9 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 12,031 D, 7,333 R, 6,121 no-party, 115 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 30,746 active Democrats, 22,020 Republicans, 30,227 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 28,643 Democrats, 20,551 Republicans, 30,759 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 82.5 percent, Latino 4.2 percent, African-American 9.0 percent, Asian-American 2.0 percent

• Education: 26.2 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 15.2 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $47,002 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: Republicans seem to have given up on beating Senator Jeff Danielson, the three-term incumbent in Iowa Senate district 30. The GOP started spending money late to back up State Representative Walt Rogers in House district 60.

6) Woodbury

The sixth-largest county, containing Sioux City, was the only one in Iowa to vote for John McCain in 2008 but for Barack Obama in 2012.

Woodbury County also has the second-largest Latino population in the state, after Polk County.

• 2012 presidential vote: 22,302 (49.2 percent) for Barack Obama, 21,841 (48.22 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 7,319 D, 7,680 R, 4,059 no-party, 60 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 18,247 active Democrats, 20,626 Republicans, 18,770 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 19,231 Democrats, 19,310 Republicans, 19,136 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 74.8 percent, Latino 15.7 percent, African-American 3.0 percent, Asian-American 2.8 percent

• Education: 21.3 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 13.9 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $46,015 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Neither party has spent much money on down-ballot races in this county.

7) Dubuque

Some Republicans have speculated that Dubuque, a traditional Democratic and labor stronghold with a heavily Catholic population, could see an unusually large crossover vote for Trump.

• 2012 presidential vote: 28,768 (56.2 percent) for Barack Obama, 21,280 (41.6 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 11,783 D, 5,843 R, 4,596 no-party, 60 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 26,287 active Democrats, 16,444 Republicans, 21,585 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 24,768 Democrats, 14,682 Republicans, 21,783 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 91.4 percent, Latino 2.3 percent, African-American 3.2 percent, Asian-American 1.4 percent

• Education: 27.8 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 16.5 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $53,410 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: Both parties have spent money in Iowa House district 57, an open seat covering much of the county outside the city of Dubuque.

8) Pottawattamie

The largely blue-collar city of Council Bluffs (across the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska) could also see a lot of crossover votes for Trump.

• 2012 presidential vote: 19,644 (46.3 percent) for Barack Obama, 21,860 (51.5 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 6,059 D, 7,205 R, 3,824 no-party, 73 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 15,655 active Democrats, 21,290 Republicans, 19,429 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 16,412 Democrats, 21,174 Republicans, 18,098 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 88.2 percent, Latino 7.5 percent, African-American 1.7 percent, Asian-American 0.8 percent

• Education: 19.7 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 15.9 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $51,939 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: Third Congressional district and Iowa Senate district 8, where Majority Leader Mike Gronstal is being outspent by the Republican Party and some outside groups.

9) Cedar

This small county in eastern Iowa has been the best bellwether for statewide results in the last several presidential elections, as James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette in November 2014.

Cedar County Iowa bellwether photo Screen Shot 2016-11-07 at 11.46.04 PM_zps8giccc1k.png

• 2012 presidential vote: 4,972 (51.2 percent) for Barack Obama, 4,529 (46.7 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 1,187 D, 1,306 R, 950 no-party, 11 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 3,173 active Democrats, 3,902 Republicans, 4,586 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 3,230 Democrats, 3,684 Republicans, 4,570 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 96.0 percent, Latino 1.7 percent, African-American 0.5 percent, Asian-American 0.6 percent

• Education: 20.8 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 18.7 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $59,672 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Neither party has focused on this year’s down-ballot races in Cedar County.

10) Wapello

The county including Ottumwa has voted reliably Democratic for decades. Its residents are largely Catholic, and organized labor was strong here until the 1980s. Wapello was one of just five Iowa counties to vote for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election and among just four counties to vote for Bonnie Campbell in her 1994 challenge to Governor Terry Branstad.

I’m wondering whether Trump can capitalize on the fact that Wapello County currently has the highest unemployment rate in Iowa (7.1 percent in September 2016).

• 2012 presidential vote: 8663 (54.7 percent) for Barack Obama, 6789 (42.9 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 2,975 D, 1,901 R, 1,300 no-party, 20 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 8,542 active Democrats, 5,445 Republicans, 6,863 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 9,654 Democrats, 5,352 Republicans, 7,032 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 84.6 percent, Latino 10.5 percent, African-American 2.4 percent, Asian-American 1.0 percent

• Education: 15.3 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 16.9 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $41,589 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: None this year, but most of this county is part of Senate district 41, which will be a hotly contested race in 2018.

11) Lee

This county in the southeast corner of the state has the second-highest unemployment in Iowa (6.8 percent in September 2016). Partly for that reason, this longtime Democratic stronghold looks like Trump territory to me.

• 2012 presidential vote: 10,714 (56.1 percent) for Barack Obama, 7,785 (40.8 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 3,845 D, 1,644 R, 1,741 no-party, 22 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 9,355 active Democrats, 4,421 Republicans, 7,985 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 10,125 Democrats, 4,384 Republicans, 8,269 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 91.1 percent, Latino 3.4 percent, African-American 3.1 percent, Asian-American 0.6 percent

• Education: 15.5 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 19.1 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $43,314 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: Although Republicans are not targeting Iowa Senate district 42, I’m watching this race for signs of Donald Trump’s coattails.

12) Muscatine

This predominantly working-class county has a rapidly-growing Latino population.

• 2012 presidential vote: 11,323 (56.8 percent) for Barack Obama, 8,168 (41.0 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 3,184 D, 3,214 R, 2,246 no-party, 27 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 8,101 active Democrats, 8,234 Republicans, 10,040 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 7,895 Democrats, 8,327 Republicans, 10,539 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 77.9 percent, Latino 17.5 percent, African-American 2.4 percent, Asian-American 1.2 percent

• Education: 18.2 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 15.5 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $52,899 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: Half of Iowa Senate district 46 lies in this county, including all of House district 91. Both parties have spent a lot of money on those races.

13) Mitchell

Small but mighty: the first county in the U.S. to elect a woman to any office (in 1869!) was also the nation’s whitest county to vote for Barack Obama in 2012.

• 2012 presidential vote: 2,831 (50.2 percent) for Barack Obama, 2,643 (46.9 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 679 D, 559 R, 791 no-party, 1 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 1,688 active Democrats, 2,526 Republicans, 2,769 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 1,829 Democrats, 2,560 Republicans, 2,718 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 96.5 percent, Latino 1.4 percent, African-American 0.9 percent, Asian-American 0.5 percent

• Education: 15.1 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 21.5 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $47,326 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: One of six counties in Iowa Senate district 26, a top-tier race for control of the upper chamber. Two-term Democratic Senator Mary Jo Wilhelm faces Waylon Brown here.

14) Marshall

The Marshalltown area has seen rapid growth in its Latino population over the last two decades. I’m curious to see whether a “Trump effect” is visible here.

• 2012 presidential vote: 10,257 (53.4 percent) for Barack Obama, 8,472 (44.1 percent) for Mitt Romney 19,192

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 3,463 D, 2,999 R, 2,284 no-party, 24 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 7,316 active Democrats, 7,657 Republicans, 8,871 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 7,840 Democrats, 7,933 Republicans, 9,239 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 72.8 percent, Latino 20.7 percent, African-American 1.9 percent, Asian-American 3.1 percent

• Education: 20.1 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 17.7 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $52,354 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: Both parties have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in Iowa Senate district 36, where two-term Democratic incumbent Steve Sodders faces Jeff Edler.

15) Buena Vista

The county containing Storm Lake has the second-highest percentage of Latino residents in the state. I’m looking for signs of increased Latino turnout, not only due to a “Trump effect” but also because Storm Lake school board member Sara Huddleston is a Latina running for the Iowa House.

• 2012 presidential vote: 3,700 (43.9 percent) for Barack Obama, 4,554 (54.0 percent) for Mitt Romney

• Early votes cast, as of November 7: 947 D, 1,151 R, 805 no-party, 9 other

• Current voter registration numbers: 3,048 active Democrats, 4,184 Republicans, 4,534 no-party voters

• November 2012 voter registration numbers: 2,909 Democrats, 3,957 Republicans, 4,605 no-party voters

• Race (among county residents, July 2015 estimate): non-Hispanic white 62.5 percent, Latino 24.6 percent, African-American 3.1 percent, Asian-American 8.3 percent

• Education: 19.7 percent of adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher (For Iowa: 26.4 percent)

• Share of residents age 65 or older: 15.0 percent (For Iowa: 16.1 percent)

• Median household income (2010-2014, in 2014 dollars): $48,010 (For Iowa: $52,716)

Key down-ballot races: Although neither party has spent a significant amount of money in Iowa House district 11, I’m interested to see whether Huddleston improves on past Democratic performance in a district with a large GOP voter registration advantage.

Top image: photos of Polk County administrative building (Des Moines) and Scott County courthouse (Davenport).

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