NBC News’ yearlong County to County project covering the presidential race will include Beaver County and four other counties from battleground states.
Beaver County will be featured in a yearlong NBC News project covering five counties in presidential battleground states and culminating with the November 2020 election.
"We’re trying to pick counties that are emblematic of the larger story," said NBC News political director and "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd in an interview with The Times on Thursday.
Todd announced the County to County project Sunday morning during "Meet the Press." Besides Beaver County, the effort will focus on Milwaukee County, Wisc.; Kent County, Mich.; Miami-Dade, Fla.; and Maricopa County, Ariz.
Segments, stories and an interactive map with analysis and data on the counties will be posted on nbcnews.com/politics/county-to-county.
Beaver County drew the network’s interest because it is a traditional blue-collar, Democratic stronghold that has grown more GOP-friendly and repeatedly voted for Republican presidential candidates. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the county was John Kerry, who beat then-President George W. Bush 51 percent to 48 percent in 2004.
Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney both outperformed former President Barack Obama in the county in 2008 and 2012, respectively, and President Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton 58 percent to 39 percent in 2016.
It was Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 that spurred the County to County project, Todd said. "I hated that feeling on election night of feeling as blindsided as we were," he said.
This time around, Todd said he wants to learn directly from voters what they are thinking about the candidates. "My goal is: I ain’t missing that again," he said.
Polls have shown Trump could be in trouble in Pennsylvania, which he narrowly won by just about 44,300 votes in 2016, and those expectations have grown since Democrats picked up county commissioner majorities throughout southeastern Pennsylvania signifying a political shift.
Todd said that puts pressure on Trump to do even better in semi-rural and rural counties, such as Beaver, where he has had previous success and Republicans have tightened their grip on county courthouses.
"He needs to run up the score now in these counties," Todd said.
NBC News will be seeking "citizen observers" to serve as the eyes and ears for the project throughout 2020, Todd said. Network reporters will come to the county to talk to voters and check with them on significant political issues and events, track what is happening in the local economy and follow The Times’ local coverage.
Todd said he wants to hear from voters about what political material they are seeing on social media and TV, hearing on radio and receiving in their mailboxes.
"You’ll see a lot of us," Todd said, noting that the State of the Union address would probably be the first event that NBC reporters will come here to cover. "We want to be able to have folks see the presidential race from the ground up."