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Here are the counties that have shifted the most toward the GOP since 2008

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.
Beset With Unemployment And Poverty, West Virginians Look To Trump For Help
A truck drives through downtown Welch in McDowell County, W.Va., in 2017.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago, we wrote about how the Democratic Party’s recent success in Georgia had been building for years, with three suburban Atlanta counties representing the party’s biggest county-by-county gains between 2008-2020.

Today, we look at the opposite question: What places in the country exemplify the Republican Party’s most substantial gains since the start of the Obama era?

According to an NBC News analysis of presidential results between 2008-2020, the GOP saw its most dramatic improvement in three Appalachian counties: Elliott County, Ky; Webster County, W.V.; and McDowell County, W.V.

Elliott County, Ky.

  • 2008: Obama 61 percent, McCain 36 percent
  • 2012: Obama 49 percent, Romney 47 percent
  • 2020: Biden: 24 percent, Trump 75 percent

Webster County, W.V.

  • 2008: Obama 51 percent, McCain 45 percent
  • 2012: Obama 34 percent, Romney 62 percent
  • 2020: Biden 18 percent, Trump 81 percent

McDowell County, W.V.

  • 2008: Obama 53 percent, McCain 45 percent
  • 2012: Obama 34 percent, Romney 64 percent
  • 2020: Biden 20 percent, Trump 79 percent

All three are counties that picked Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008; they all started trending away from Democrats in 2012; and they all gave Trump more than three-quarters of the vote in 2020.

Elliott, Webster and McDowell are also overwhelmingly white, with incomes well below the state median, low rates of college education, and stagnant or shrinking populations (characteristics that those counties share with dozens of the ones that have seen the biggest GOP shifts over the past 12 years).

Elliott and McDowell have been particularly affected by the decline in coal jobs. And McDowell — right in the swath of Appalachia that has suffered the worst of the opioid crisis — has one of the highest rates of drug-induced deaths in the nation.

But there’s something else noteworthy about what parts of Trump’s appeal are and are not transferable: While these counties have overwhelmingly embraced Trump, they also have a long Democratic ancestral history that kept Democrats competitive downballot even as Trump tromped Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden at the top of the ticket.

In all three counties, registered Democrats still far outnumber registered Republicans. McDowell and Webster were competitive in the 2018 Senate race that reelected Joe Manchin, and Elliott County in Kentucky broke for a Democratic governor in 2019 by about 20 points.

Tweet of the day

The new 12th Commandment?

Here’s a number that really stuck out to us in yesterday’s new Pew Research Center poll.

The vast majority of Democrats — 68 percent — said their party should be accepting of Democratic elected officials who openly criticize Joe Biden.

But the majority of Republicans — 56 percent — said their party should not be accepting of GOP elected officials who openly criticize former President Trump.

And even more Republicans — 64 percent — say the party shouldn’t be accepting of GOP elected officials who voted to impeach or convict Trump.

We’re reminded of how Ronald Reagan popularized the so-called “11th commandment,” urging the GOP that “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

That seems to have been superseded by a new commandment for Republicans: “Thou shalt not speak ill of Trump.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

59: The total number of New York Dem state senators and state Assembly members who have called for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign

227-203: The House vote on a measure that would require background checks on almost all gun purchases. (It was backed by eight Republicans as well as all Democrats except one, but is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate.)

29,401,526: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 59,259 more than yesterday morning.)

533,376: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,511 more than yesterday morning.)

98,203,893: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

10 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated

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

Becerra on track for confirmation

President Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary nominee, Xavier Becerra, is on his way toward confirmation.

The California attorney general gained two crucial votes on Thursday: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Becerra’s confirmation wasn’t always assured, with some senators faulting his lack of experience in public health.

“While Xavier Becerra and I do not agree on every issue, he has affirmed to me his dedication to working with Members on both sides of the aisle to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the numerous needs of our nation in a bipartisan way,” Manchin said in a statement.

Collins echoed Manchin: “Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS secretary.”

The Senate voted to discharge Becerra’s nomination from the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday and the full Senate will now begin formally considering his nomination. NBC’s Hill team reports that the Senate will likely begin working on Becerra’s nomination next week after the Senate confirms Interior secretary nominee Deb Haaland (which could be as soon as Monday).

Biden Cabinet Watch

State: Tony Blinken (confirmed)

Treasury: Janet Yellen (confirmed)

Defense: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin (confirmed)

Attorney General: Merrick Garland (confirmed)

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas (confirmed)

HHS: Xavier Becerra

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack (confirmed)

Transportation: Pete Buttigieg (confirmed)

Energy: Jennifer Granholm (confirmed)

Interior: Deb Haaland

Education: Miguel Cardona (confirmed)

Commerce: Gina Raimondo (confirmed)

Labor: Marty Walsh

HUD: Marcia Fudge (confirmed)

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough (confirmed)

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield (confirmed)

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (confirmed)

EPA: Michael Regan (confirmed)

SBA: Isabel Guzman

OMB Director: Neera Tanden (withdrawn)

U.S. Trade Representative: Katherine Tai

Chair of Council of Economic Advisers: Cecilia Rouse (confirmed)

Onward and upward

Today we say “so long” to our colleague Melissa Holzberg, a member of the First Read team who’s heading to exciting new adventures in breaking news at Forbes. Give her a follow on Twitter over at @mel_holzberg. Good luck, Melissa — the sky’s the limit!

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., will not run for reelection.

The latest harassment complaint against Gov. Andrew Cuomo has now been reported to the Albany police.

What’s actually in the $1.9 trillion relief bill? NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Benjy Sarlin break it all down.

The Republican Party is betting against a stimulus measure that — at least right now — is overwhelmingly popular.

The Justice Department is collecting evidence to try to build a conspiracy indictment against members of the Oath Keepers for the Jan. 6 riot.

Newly-confirmed AG Merrick Garland is promising that there will be no partisanship or favoritism in his DOJ.