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Democrats' biggest gains from 2008-2020 came in these Georgia counties

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden campaigns for Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Ossoff and Warnock in Atlanta, Georgia
President-elect Joe Biden points to Democratic Senate candidates from Georgia Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, as he campaigns on their behalf ahead of their January 5 run-off elections, during a drive-in campaign rally in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — When former Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., announced this week that he will pass on a 2022 Senate comeback bid, he went out of his way to suggest that Georgia “is not a blue state.”

Setting aside the fact that the Peach State just elected two Democrats to the Senate and picked a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1992, Republicans would be foolish to ignore the dramatic shifts that have happened in Atlanta’s suburbs since the start of the Obama era.

In fact, according to a new NBC News analysis of presidential results in every county in the U.S., three Atlanta-area suburban Georgia counties — Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale — increased their Democratic vote share between 2008 and 2020 by more than any other counties in the country.

  • In Gwinnett, Barack Obama won 44.5 percent of the vote in 2008, while Biden won 58.4 percent in 2020.
  • In Henry, Obama won 45.9 percent in 2008, while Biden won 59.7 percent in 2020.
  • And in Rockdale, Obama won 54.4 percent in 2008, while Biden won 69.9 percent in 2020.

What’s more, seven of the eight counties that saw the largest increase in Democratic vote share across the entire country just happen to be in Georgia. And all of Georgia’s 10 most populous counties saw an increase in Democratic vote share from 2008-2020.

Much was made last year about how suburban voters rejected Trump. These suburban Georgia counties tell that story — the lion’s share of the Democratic gains over time came with Trump on the ballot — and they also offer a reminder that Republicans’ suburban problem isn’t just about white voters with a college degree turning up their noses at Trump and Trumpism.

Diversity is a huge part of the story in these three counties. Across Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale, non-white residents outnumber those who are white alone. And the percentage of the population with a college degree in Henry and Rockdale is actually slightly lower than the state average.

What these counties do have in common with suburban areas writ large: They’re growing fast.

And the same county-by-county analysis we did showed that the places where Republicans gained the most ground between 2008 and 2020 have the opposite trend in common: They’re stagnant or shrinking.

Why fighting the last battle again might not be helpful for the GOP

As the New York Times reports that Perdue’s decision not to run came after meeting with Trump (who was vowing revenge against GOP Gov. Brian Kemp), these three Georgia counties underscore that running the 2020 race all over again might not help the GOP in 2022.

Especially in a state like Georgia, which will feature gubernatorial and Senate contests in next year’s midterms.

Earlier this month, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump is essential to GOP hopes in 2022. "We don't have a snowball's chance in hell of taking back the majority without Donald Trump," Graham said. "If you don't get that, you're just not looking."

But is Graham looking at what happened in Georgia — in November and January?

One other thing: If there is no GOP civil war, as GOP Sen. Rick Scott argues, would Perdue have really passed on a 2022 run?

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

28,357,850: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 75,205 more than yesterday morning.)

504,871: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 2,378 more than yesterday morning.)

55,058: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus in the United States.

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

65,032,083: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

19,882,544: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

64: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy: Yay for vaccines edition

There are two policy stories dominating coverage of the pandemic right now: eopening schools and vaccine distribution.

The first one is a complex conversation that’s upsetting to just about everyone involved. But the frustration around school openings may be distracting from the scale of optimism on the vaccine front, which could render some of these tough conversations moot faster than we realize.

Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of infectious disease at University at Buffalo, said in an interview that the “extraordinary” vaccines were by far the biggest COVID-19 story right now. So far, they look more like a miracle every day as new studies come out, new versions are approved, and the benefits are observed in real time.

New research from Israel suggests vaccines may provide significant protection after even just one dose and even prevent transmission to others, which would be a huge step towards normalcy if the findings bear out. And even as new variants are a cause for concern, vaccines appear to protect against the most severe types of illness for now.

“[There’s] too much focus on possible limitations and not enough on their significant merits that will get us out of this mess,” Russo said.

The news has been so good lately that Russo is already worried about premature celebration. Infection rates are plummeting in the U.S. and other countries, even before widespread vaccination, for a variety of possible reasons. If cases hit new lows, younger people might decide the crisis has passed and they don’t need a vaccine once they come available, potentially setting up another outbreak in winter.

“We need to keep pushing and inspiring as many people as possible to get vaccinated as soon as possible as their turn arises,” he said.

Recapping yesterday’s busy day on the Hill

Tuesday was a jam-packed day on Capitol Hill. Here’s what you need to know about what happened:

  • The Senate confirmed President Biden’s pick for UN ambassador, Linda Thomas Greenfield, by a 78-20 vote.
  • The Senate confirmed Biden’s Agriculture secretary nominee, Tom Vilsack, by a 92-7 vote. Quick flashback: Vilsack was confirmed to be former President Obama’s Agriculture Secretary in 2009 by a voice vote.
  • New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland appeared before the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee for her confirmation hearing to be the next interior secretary, where nearly all the Republican senators questioned Haaland’s statements against developing federal lands for fossil fuel energy.
  • Xavier Becerra, Biden’s pick to lead HHS, testified on Capitol Hill as well and was faced with Republicans questioning his qualifications to lead the department. Becerra is the attorney general of California.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Biden will shift his political operation into the DNC to help build the party in advance of midterms.

Joe Manchin says his opposition to Neera Tanden’s confirmation is “not personal at all.”

Here’s what we learned about what experts call the intelligence breakdown that led to chaos on Jan. 6.

Former far-right activists are launching a new project to help fight online radicalization.

The Washington Post reports on GOP donor Rebekah Mercer’s role in Parler.

NBC’s Suzy Khimm has a good look into the uproar over how New York tallied its nursing home Covid deaths differently than other states.

Biden is heading to Houston later this week to survey storm damage.

The Texas disaster is giving new hope to Beto O’Rourke’s political life.

Kristi Noem is getting a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago.

Melissa Holzberg contributed.