County to County: These five counties told the story of the 2020 election

WASHINGTON — Almost exactly a year ago today, NBC News chose five swing-state counties to help explain the presidential contest — which we called our “County to County Project.”

And now with almost all the votes counted in the election, these five counties definitely delivered.

Milwaukee County, Wis., told the story about how Joe Biden improved on Hillary Clinton’s performance in urban areas in the Midwest with sizable African-American populations.

In 2016, Clinton won Milwaukee Co. by 162,753 votes over Donald Trump, 65 percent to 28 percent. (Barack Obama had won it by 177,514 votes in 2012.)

In 2020, Biden won it by 182,896 votes, 69 percent to 29 percent. And that 20,000-vote increase for Biden from 2016 just happens to be his winning margin for the state.

Maricopa County, Ariz., told the story about how Biden won the cities and big suburbs in states Republicans had owned in previous presidential races.

In 2016, Trump won Maricopa — the Phoenix area — by 44,000 votes, 48 percent to 45 percent.

In 2020, Biden won the county by 45,000 votes, 50 percent to 48 percent, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate in 72 years to win Maricopa.

Biden won Arizona by just more than 10,000 votes.

Miami-Dade, Fla., told the story about how Trump’s improved performance with Florida Latinos helped him win the Sunshine State.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the county by 290,000 votes over Trump, 63 percent to 34 percent.

In 2020, Biden netted just 85,000 votes in Miami-Dade, 53 percent to 46 percent — in a state Trump won by 372,000 votes.

Beaver County, Pa., told the story about how Trump continued to win rural counties in swing states, though the margin (in percentages) was smaller than it was four years ago.

In 2016, Trump won Beaver by 15,600 votes, 57 percent to 32 percent.

In 2020, he won it by 16,400 votes, 58 percent to 41 percent.

And finally, Kent County, Mich., told the story about how traditional Republican bastions — like Grand Rapids (Gerald Ford country) — broke for Biden.

Trump won Kent in 2016 (48 percent to 45 percent), but that was down from Mitt Romney’s winning performance in 2012 (53 percent to 45 percent).

In 2020, Biden won the county, 52 percent to 46 percent.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

5,562,055: Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote at the time of publication

11,108,096: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 478,414 more than Friday morning.)

247,370: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 3,277 more than Friday morning.)

167.17 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

69,987: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus.

50: The number of days until the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs.

65: The number of days until Inauguration Day.

138: The number of times state attorneys general have sued the Trump administration.

Tweet of the day

First woman as Defense secretary?

President-elect Joe Biden may nominate the first woman to lead the Pentagon. NBC’s Geoff Bennett and Marianna Sotomayor report that former Pentagon senior official Michèle Flournoy has emerged as a top choice for Defense secretary.

The news comes as the Biden team’s diversity data showed that a majority of staffers on Biden’s transition team are women.

Flournoy told NBC News in August that she would be open to serving in the role if asked. “I’ve spent 30 years in some form of public service either in government or in the non-profit sector. That is my calling,” Flournoy said at the time.

And if nominated, Flournoy already knows her way through the Senate confirmation process — she was confirmed by voice vote in 2009 to serve as President Obama’s Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

By the way, Biden and Kamala Harris deliver remarks on the economy this afternoon.

Georgia Runoff Watch by Ben Kamisar

President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, told one of us on Sunday that Biden may be heading to Georgia to campaign for the two Democrats, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, whose election would secure Democrats control of the Senate (with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris breaking ties).

Klain said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” that the two Senate runoffs are important not just because it would help Biden see his agenda through, but because when there are “better senators in Washington, we are going to get a better output in Washington.”

“We’re going to work hard to help win those Senate seats in Georgia. I think you’ll see the President-elect campaign down there as we get closer to election day. We’re going to put people, money, resources down there to help our two good candidates win,” he said.

Talking policy with Benjy: Why your favorite business is going under

Amid an ongoing explosion of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, it’s important to remember that some of the damage of the coronavirus is entirely self-inflicted.

For six months, President Trump and Democratic and Republican leaders have failed to reach an agreement on more emergency relief, with each side holding out at various points for a better deal. The political calendar has made things harder — Democrats assumed their leverage would increase post-election with a Biden win, Republicans now have a stronger hand with down-ballot victories — as well as Trump’s chaotic approach.

There’s a severe human cost to their failure to pass even a nominal emergency package, however, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent in American neighborhoods where beloved small businesses are going bankrupt waiting for relief from Washington.

NBC News viewers submitted over a hundred names of their favorite local establishments that had gone under recently, from a beloved barbershop in New York City to a quirky boutique in Lincoln, Nebraska, and their owners were acutely aware that lawmakers had failed to help them when it mattered.

“I just sort of saw the writing on the wall, that we weren’t going to get any money in the near future,” said Jason Rudofky, who closed his family’s Jewish deli in Denver, Zaidy’s, after 35 years. “They cared more about the election and they don’t realize what’s happening in America.”

While politicians can bide their time waiting for a tactical advantage, owners have long exhausted their prior federal aid and now face mounting debts, tighter health rules, and diminished sales from customers staying at home and ordering online. It also puts elected officials facing outbreaks in an impossible position — either they follow experts’ guidance and close bars and restaurants, knowing many will never re-open without more emergency grants, or they stand pat and watch the virus spread even further.

The Lid: How it happened

Last week on The Lid, we looked inside the electorate at how Joe Biden got to 270. Don’t miss Friday’s pod on how Biden made inroads with people of faith.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Trump’s lawyers have shelved a major part of their vote-counting lawsuit in Pennsylvania.

Scott Atlas said people in Michigan should “rise up” against new coronavirus restrictions.

Union leaders hope that Joe Biden will represent their interests after years of declining power.

Biden didn’t do as well in big cities as some Democrats hoped.

Anthony Fauci says the delayed transition is exacerbating the public health crisis.

Foreign allies are wondering whether America is still trustworthy.

What will Biden’s China policy look like?

David Perdue is ducking a debate with Jon Ossoff.

The statewide Georgia audit is nearing completion.