President Obama lost dozens of counties across the nation in 2012 that he won four years earlier. In California, for example, three counties (Trinity, Butte and Nevada) voted for Obama in 2008 but "flipped" to Republican "Mitt" Romney in 2012.
However, ten "contrarian" counties across the nation countered the tide and "swung" from backing Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008 to supporting President Obama in 2012. These counties are:
(1) Chaffee County, Colorado (Salida) [last voted for Democrat for president in 1964],
(2) Woodbury County, Iowa (Sioux City, western Iowa's metropolis),
(3) Franklin County, Kentucky (Frankfort, the state capital),
(4) Warren County, Mississippi (Vicksburg) [last voted for Democrat for president in 1960],
(5) Conecuh County, Alabama (Evergreen),
(6) Barbour County, Alabama (Clayton/Eufala),
(7) Early County, Georgia (Blakely),
(8) Darlington County, South Carolina (Florence metro area),
(9) Nash County, North Carolina (Rocky Mount metro area) [last voted for a Democrat for president in 1976] and
(10) Richmond County, New York (Staten Island borough of New York City).
Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections and its "McCain 2008/Obama 2012 counties" discussion forum were helpful in identifying these counties.
(1) Chaffee County, Colorado (2010 census population: 17,809) is in the Rocky Mountains at the junction of U.S. Highways 50 and 285 in central Colorado. The Arkansas River runs through it. Much of the population lives in the river valley towns of Salida (county seat) and Buena Vista. National forest lands virtually surround the valley. The 2011 population was 86.1% non-Hispanic whites.
Chaffee County supported Republican John McCain over Mr. Obama by a mere nine votes in 2008. President Obama won Chaffee County by 18 votes in 2012 (4,967 Obama vs. 4,949 Romney). The "early vote" was crucial to President Obama's victory there (382 Obama vs. 277 Romney) as Obama lost the large "absentee vote" by three ballots (3,992 Obama vs. 3,995 Romney) and also lost the Election Day vote by 86 ballots (593 Obama vs. 677 Romney).
President Obama won Colorado by 123,000 votes in 2012 compared to his 215,000 votes margin of victory four years earlier. Chaffee County was the only Colorado county that "flipped" either way at the presidential level in 2012. As recent as 2004, it had been a solidly Republican county, voting 55.6% for President George W. Bush. The last time Chaffee County backed a Democrat for president was in 1964. Chaffee County shifted from being a minuscule drag on Obama in 2008 to giving him a tiny boost in 2012.
(2) Woodbury County, Iowa (2010 census population: 102,172) is best known for Sioux City, its county seat, the metropolis of western Iowa. It is on the Missouri River, opposite from Nebraska. Interstate 29 passes through it en route north-south from Kansas City to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Its population peaked in the 1960 census when its famous stockyards still processed vast quantities of hogs and cattle. (The final livestock auction in Sioux City was held in 2002, according to the Associated Press.) The unionized meat packers once were a local political force.
Woodbury County narrowly favored Republican John McCain in 2008 (22,219 McCain vs. 21,983 Obama). It "flipped" to President Obama in 2012 (21,841 Romney vs. 22,302 Obama).
In the past half-century, Woodbury County has voted Democratic for president just four times: for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, for Michael Dukakis in 1988, for Bill Clinton in 1996 and for Barack Obama in 2012. It was the only county in far western Iowa (the row of three counties immediately east of the Missouri River) to vote for Obama in 2012. It is located in the most politically conservative part of Iowa.
(3) Franklin County, Kentucky (2010 census population: 49,285) is the location of Frankfort, the state capital. Interstate Highway 64 passes east-west through Franklin County.
Republican John McCain won Franklin County in 2008 by just 144 votes (McCain 11,911 vs. Obama 11,767). In 2012, Mr. Obama "flipped" the county and won by 190 votes (11,345 Romney vs. 11,535 Obama). Twelve years earlier, Democrat Al Gore also won Franklin County (10,853 Gore vs. 10,209 Bush).
Obama won eight Kentucky counties in 2008 and just four in 2012. That was the smallest number of Kentucky counties won by a Democratic presidential nominee since the Republican party was founded in the 1850s. The five counties that Obama won in 2008 but lost in 2012 were Henderson, Hancock, Rowan, Menifee and Wolfe.
Elliott County is only eastern Kentucky county that voted for President Obama in 2012. It is the last holdout of what used to be a large cluster of eastern Kentucky counties that were Democratic stalwarts in presidential elections. The Wikipedia page for Elliott County claims, "Elliott County has voted for the Democratic Party's nominee in every Presidential election since it incorporated in 1869. This is the longest ongoing streak of any county voting Democratic in the United States ... Elliott County was the second whitest county in the country, at 99.04%, to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Presidential election, the whitest being Mitchell County, Iowa."
Against the Nixon Republican landslide of 1972, when President Nixon won 63% of the Kentucky statewide vote, Democrat George McGovern won Elliott and six other eastern Kentucky counties. Against the Reagan landslide of 1984, Democrat Walter Mondale won Elliott and eleven other eastern Kentucky counties.
Elliott County used to be a major coal mining county, but tonnage extracted has dropped significantly since the 1980s. The United Mine Workers union was a major political force locally when coal mining was in its heyday. Elliott today is a "dry county;" the sale of alcoholic beverages is forbidden everywhere.
Until 2008, Kentucky had been considered a "bellwether" state in presidential elections in recent decades, akin to Tennessee and Missouri. From 1964 to 2004, Kentucky voted for the national electoral vote winner in every election. In Bill Clinton's final campaign day in November 1992, he held a rally in Paducah, Kentucky. A special congressional election in 1993 in Kentucky was a harbinger of the "Republican Revolution" that took over both houses of Congress in the 1994 midterm election.
(4) Warren County, Mississippi (2010 population: 48,773) is the location of Vicksburg, long nicknamed the "Queen City of the Bluff." It is perhaps the state of Mississippi's most famous city on the Mississippi River, known for an 1863 Civil War battle, its grand antebellum homes and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' research center.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Warren County's population was 49.4% non-Hispanic white in 2011. Among the state of Mississippi's counties along the Mississippi River, Warren is second in terms of percentage of non-Hispanic whites (behind DeSoto County, in the state's far northwestern corner, which was 69.6% non-Hispanic white in 2011). It is among the most white, least black counties along Mississippi's stretch of the Mississippi River.
Mississippi is among the four states where President Obama increased his share of the vote over 2008. According to the latest returns from Mississippi, Mr. Obama won 43.55% of the statewide vote in 2012, compared with 43.00% four years earlier. Obama won all of the same counties that he did in 2008, plus added Warren County.
Mr. Obama lost Warren County to McCain in 2008 by 663 votes (10,489 Obama vs. 11,152 McCain), but won it in 2012 by 509 votes (9,899 Obama vs. 9,390 Romney). Obama is the first Democrat to win Warren County in 52 years, since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. The last Democratic presidential nominee to win Warren County was John F. Kennedy in 1960; he lost the state to "Unpledged Electors," who ended up casting the state's electoral votes for Virginia U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd. Warren County voted for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and for independent presidential candidate Governor George Wallace of Alabama in 1968. Not even Democrat Jimmy Carter, who won Mississippi in 1976 and came close to winning again in 1980, won Warren County. Democrat Bill Clinton won all Mississippi counties along the Mississippi River except DeSoto and Warren counties, in both 1992 and 1996.
Obama's win of Warren County in 2012 (Obama 51.0% vs. 48.4% Romney) was a major contrast from eight years earlier when Republican George W. Bush decisively won there (Kerry 41.8% vs. Bush 57.7%).
(5) Conecuh County, Alabama (2010 population: 13,228) is one of two Alabama counties that swung from McCain in 2008 to Obama in 2012. Conecuh County is in south central Alabama, on Interstate 65 midway between Montgomery and Mobile. Its county seat and only major town is Evergreen. Its population in 2011 was 50.8% non-Hispanic white and 46.7% black. Conecuh County's population peaked at 25,489 in 1940 and has been nearly halved since. With the decline of the local cotton industry, many of its blacks left to seek employment in western and northern states in the "Second Great Migration."
Conecuh County supported McCain in 2008 by a mere 41 votes (3,470 McCain vs. 3,429 Obama). In 2012, Obama won by 117 votes (3,434 Romney vs. 3,551 Obama). Conecuh County voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980, for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and for Al Gore in 2000 (2,699 Bush vs. 2,783 Gore).
A major incident in post-Civil War Reconstruction, the "Election Riot of 1874," where the "White League" killed several black Republicans and chased Republican voters away from the polls on election day, occurred in Barbour County.
Barbour County supported McCain by a 167-vote margin in 2008 (5,697 McCain vs. 5,866 Obama). In 2012, the county gave a 334-vote margin to Obama (5,539 Romney vs. 5,873 Obama). Barbour County previously voted Democratic for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980, for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and for Al Gore in 2000 (5,188 Gore vs. 5,096 Bush).
(7) Early County, Georgia (2010 population: 11,008) is located along the Chattahoocee River in southwestern Georgia, southeast of Barbour County, Alabama. The county seat is Blakely. It is about 70 miles southwest of Plains, Georgia, President Jimmy Carter's hometown. In 2011, it was 49.3% black and 47.7% non-Hispanic white.
Early County voted for McCain by a 108-vote margin in 2008 (2,711 McCain vs. 2,603 Obama). In 2012, Obama won the county by 208 ballots (2,557 Romney vs. 2,765 Obama). Jimmy Carter won Early County in 1976 and 1980 and Bill Clinton won it in 1992 and 1996. It voted strongly for Republican George W. Bush in 2004 (59%).
(8) Darlington County, South Carolina (2010 population: 68,681) is in the northeastern part of South Carolina. It is a portion of the Florence, S.C. Metropolitan Statistical Area. Interstate Highways I-20 and I-95 pass through the county. Its county seat and main city is Darlington. In 2011, its population was 55.4% non-Hispanic white and 41.6% black.
Darlington County favored McCain by just 39 votes in 2008 (14,544 McCain vs. 14,505 Obama). In 2012, Obama won by a mere 23 votes (15,434 Romney vs. 15,457 Obama). John F. Kennedy won Darlington County in 1960, Jimmy Carter won it in 1976 and 1980 and Bill Clinton won it in 1992 and 1996.
(9) Nash County, North Carolina (2010 population: 95,840) is part of the Rocky Mount Metropolitan Statistical Area. Its county seat is the town of Nashville. Its population was 53.5% non-Hispanic white and 37.9% black in 2011.
Nash County favored McCain over Obama in 2008 by 629 ballots (23,728 McCain vs. 23,099 Obama). In 2012, it voted for Obama by 471 votes (23,842 Romney vs. 24,313 Obama).
This was a big change from 2004; George W. Bush defeated the Kerry/Edwards ticket by a wide, 16.5 percentage point margin in Nash County (21,902 Bush vs. 15,693 Kerry, 58.1% vs. 41.7%). In 2000, Bush defeated Gore by 18 percentage points in this county (17,995 Bush vs. 12,376 Gore, 59.0% vs. 40.6%). (If North Carolina U.S. Senator John Edwards' selection as Democratic running mate was supposed to give John Kerry any great advantage in North Carolina in 2004, that did not happen in Nash County.) Before 2012, the last time that Nash County favored a Democrat for president was in 1976 (Jimmy Carter).
(10) Richmond County, New York (2010 population: 468,730) is the Borough of Staten Island of New York City. Before 2012, Richmond County last voted for a Democrat for president in 2000 (51.9% Gore vs. 45.0% Bush).
Staten Island backed McCain in 2008 by 6,751 votes (86,062 McCain vs. 79,311 Obama). In 2012, it swung to Obama, giving him a 1,104-vote margin over Romney (66,420 Romney vs. 67,524 Obama). Turnout was significantly lower in 2012 than in 2008, likely because most Staten Island residents were preoccupied with flooding, power outages and other issues related to "Superstorm Sandy."