*Note: I am aware that Donald Trump is not the nominee yet. I think it is likely at this point, especially after his performance in Tuesday’s primaries. Either way, my quick and dirty analysis would stay very, very similar. As far as Hillary is concerned, she is basically the nominee at this point, so I am writing about her specifically.
2008 and 2012 Results
The first thing I did was look at the results of the 2008 and 2012 primary and general election results for the county. In 2008, Democrats had a larger-than-normal turnout in the primary with 5,296 voters taking a Dem ballot. Republicans still had more ballots cast, with 5,963 voting in the Republican primary. This is closer than normal, and from a distance could look like a good sign for the Democratic presidential candidate in the general election. Barack Obama, however, was beaten 64-34 by John McCain in the county. Why was this? My theory is that the Republican party had no really competitive local contests. The County Commissioners races were uncontested, and the contested races were mostly for state judge or party representatives. On the Democratic side, along with a heated presidential race with two candidates trying to make history (Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama), there was a state senate race that featured Joy Brubaker and Bill Horne, who were fairly well known in Clinton County.
2012 was an entirely different story in the primaries, but with a similar result in the general election. Rick Santorum. who had a wide base among evangelical, socially conservative Christians (a staple of Clinton County politics), had the most votes in the Republican presidential primary. Over 6,500 people voted in the Republican primary, an increase of 500 in 2008. This primary also featured candidates for US Senate and many candidates for county commissioner. In the Democratic primary, only 741 people voted, likely because there was an incumbent president (Obama) and no real local races. In the general election, Mitt Romney doubled Obama’s votes in Clinton County, beating him 66-32.
What does this mean for 2016?
It is hard to say, in part because both parties will likely nominate candidates that are wildly unpopular in the opposing party. This could drive a #NeverHillary campaign to join the #NeverTrump campaign, creating a situation where people are voting against a certain candidate as much as they are for a certain candidate. The numbers show Republicans winning Clinton County by large margins, even as the state has gone blue in the last two presidential elections. How does this bode for Trump? He had almost as many votes in the Republican primary as Romney and Santorum combined in 2012, so it is clear that he has significant support in the county (especially places other the the city of Wilmington). He did not, however, get a majority of the votes in the Republican primary. With Kasich and Cruz, who took 51% of the county together, going more anti-Trump by the day, one wonders if some of those voters will follow. Hillary Clinton was relatively popular in 2008, posting a Clinton County primary win over then-Senator Obama, but was beaten by Bernie Sanders in the primary this year.
I could see Trump winning Clinton County by around 25 points, judging from past performance by Republican candidates and judging from him being around the same place in statewide general election polls as McCain and Romney lost by. Clinton County fits Trump’s demographic well: hit hard by the recession; overwhelmingly white; and rural. Clinton should do well in the city, where many of the county’s Democrats live, but will still probably lose by some margin. This will be an interesting campaign to watch in terms of how each candidates policies would affect those in Clinton County, and it is certainly a race we will be following here at the Wilmington Bulletin.