America’s 100 most conservative-friendly counties: numbers 81-100

Chris Palko Contributor
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If you’ve dreamed of fleeing your NPR-besotted, blue-state neighborhood for more sympathetic environs, but you’re not ready to take to the woods, we may have a solution.

The Daily Caller is ranking the 100 conservative friendliest counties in America. The rankings were determined using the following criteria:

  • How counties have voted in the past two presidential elections
  • Median household income, factoring in cost of living
  • Home ownership percentage
  • Married family percentage
  • Civilian veteran percentage
  • State unionization laws, whether a right-to-work state or mandatory union state
  • State tax burden–state income taxes, factoring in available deductions
  • State concealed weapons laws, ease of carrying weapon legally
  • State weekly religious attendance, as measured by Pew
  • State abortion laws, as measured by Americans United for Life
  • Intangibles, such things as a long conservative history, an ingrained military culture, prominent right-wing politicians

There are two qualifications:

A “county” must be a county-level unit, which includes parishes in Louisiana, independent cities in Virginia and boroughs/municipalities in Alaska

The population must be over 50,000 as of 2008.

Here is part one, Numbers 100 to 81 (click to view the slideshow). The Daily Caller will be counting down 20 counties every day this week. On Friday, we will reveal the top 20 conservative-friendly counties in the nation.

100. Onslow County, N.C.
Largest city: Jacksonville

Onslow County’s identity is tied to Camp Lejeune, a Marine base used for amphibious assault training, and a series of satellite military installations in the Jacksonville area. Not surprisingly, Onslow County has one of the heaviest concentrations of veterans in the nation, at more than 26 percent of the population. It is a heavily Republican county that would rank much higher if it didn’t have a below-average household income.

99. Lake County, Fla.
Largest city: Eustis

Lake County is appropriately named. Most of the development in the suburban Orlando county is on isthmuses in between lakes. While Lake County is a booming suburban area with large numbers of young families, what really warrants its presence on this list is the mammoth retirement community of The Villages. The Villages has turned into a must-visit stop for Republican candidates and conservative commentators. Sarah Palin drew an audience of 60,000 to a campaign rally in 2008 — nearly the same size as the entire community.

98. Ada County, Idaho
Largest city: Boise

Boise has been one of the fastest-growing, and most conservative friendly, cities in America. While Boise is a swing city politically, the county is heavily Republican. Boise features far more middle-class, single-family housing than other cities of a similar size. It features a low tax, entrepreneur friendly business climate that has grown a strong small business sector.

97. Lancaster County, Penn.
Largest city: Lancaster

Images of shoefly pie cooling on a windowsill and a buggy rattling down the road may spring to mind at the mention of Lancaster, but while it’s arguably the center of Amish culture in the U.S., the more pervasive religious tradition there is the German reformation ethic associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. Due to the rich soil in the area, the county has become one of the most productive agricultural areas in the country. The most famous politician was Rep. Bob Walker, who was Newt Gingrich’s top ally before and after the 1994 midterm elections.

96. Tarrant County, Texas
Largest city: Fort Worth

Fort Worth has more than 700,000 residents, which makes it about as large as San Francisco. It was the second-largest city in America to vote for George W. Bush in 2004 (Jacksonville, Fla., was the largest). While often lost in Dallas’s shadow, the western part of the Metroplex is gaining ground. Arlington, the third-largest city in the DFW area, is now the home of the Dallas Cowboys. It is one of the largest consistently Republican counties in the nation, and its margins are not usually close. It is weighed down somewhat, like all affluent Texas counties, with some of the highest property taxes in the nation due to the state’s “Robin Hood plan,” designed to equalize school funding.

95. Maricopa County, Ariz.
Largest city: Phoenix

Two of the Republican party’s presidential nominees in the last 50 years hailed from the largest county on this list: Barry Goldwater and John McCain. Maricopa County contains Phoenix, which leans Democratic, and most of the Phoenix suburbs, which are heavily Republican. Suburbs such Scottsdale, Mesa and the fast growing West Valley are some of the most solidly conservative territory in the country. This area is not as Republican as it once was, mostly due to the growing Hispanic population. The political future of the county, and Arizona itself (about 60 percent of the state lives in the county) depends upon successful wooing of the new immigrants.

94. Weber County, Utah
Largest city: Ogden

The first of five Utah counties to make this list, Weber County is the northern edge of the Great Salt Lake basin where nearly all of Utah’s population lives. The influence of the Mormon population is evident; Utah has the second-highest proportion of weekly religious attendance (Mississippi is higher). Ogden was long the second city of Utah and its most famous native is J. Willard Marriott, founder of Marriott Hotels.

93. Cabarrus County, N.C.
Largest city: Concord

Cabarrus County isn’t the wealthiest county or the most Republican county around (though it does well in both categories). But it is the epicenter of the NASCAR world. Charlotte Motor Speedway hosts the Coca Cola 600, one of NASCAR’s major races. The majority of Sprint Cup drivers base their operations in various spots throughout the county. Also here is the Concord Mills Mall, the largest tourist attraction in North Carolina.

92. Benton County, Wash.
Largest city: Kennewick

This is the sole county from the Pacific Northwest to make the list. The county hosts two of the three Tri-Cities that form a fast growing metropolitan area on the banks of the Columbia River. Forbes considered Kennewick to be the 2nd best city in America last year for job growth. The county gave both Bush and McCain more than 60 percent of the vote. Washington’s lack of religious roots is balanced out with relatively lax gun laws and no state income tax.

91. Cape Girardeau County, Mo.
Largest city: Cape Girardeau

If you’ve ever wondered how Rush Limbaugh came to be, you must understand where he came from. Cape Girardeau, while not wealthy, is a town out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It is generally more prosperous than most mid-sized towns in the Midwest. Its local politics are almost completely controlled by conservative Republicans. It is only at about the national average for home ownership and married families, but the political culture is so strongly Republican that it votes like it is wealthier. El Rushbo is not an aberration; he is just a more articulate salesman for his hometown’s values.

90. El Dorado County, Calif.
Largest community: El Dorado Hills

This county in suburban Sacramento is one of the few reliable Republican counties of any size left in California. It has voted about 15 to 20 points more Republican than the state average in the past two presidential elections. The western part of the county consists of fast-growing suburbs. The county is one of a few in California with home ownership higher than the national average. The eastern edge is Lake Tahoe, the deep blue lake home to year-round resorts and where Fredo Corleone met his demise.

89. Placer County, Calif.
Largest city: Roseville

Placer County is essentially a carbon copy of El Dorado County, but twice as big. Roseville is a massive suburb of Sacramento developing on the edge of the county. This is still Republican territory. The disaster status of California, particularly for conservatives, severely penalizes it in the rankings. It is part of a state with very high taxes, restrictive gun laws, low religious attendance, dominant public sector unions, and the most permissive abortion laws in America. On the plus side, Roseville was rated the skinniest place in America.

88. Greene County, Mo.
Largest city: Springfield

Springfield is a building block of Red America. It’s home to a strong country-western musical tradition. The largest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God, is headquartered in here as are Bass Pro Shops. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, Branson is a stone’s throw away.

87. Butler County, Ohio
Largest city: Hamilton

Cincinnati has always been one of the most Republican cities north of the Mason-Dixon line. While the central city has lost much of its heritage, the spreading suburbs have adopted the previous conservative tendencies of the city root and branch. John Boehner hails from Butler County, which in the past few decades have transitioned from rural to suburban, keeping its Republicanism intact. Boehner is a product of the extensive Catholic school system in the area, which by many counts has the greatest proportion of students in Catholic schools.

86. Guadalupe County, Texas
Largest city: Seguin

This county, once a haven for German immigrants, is now on the edge of suburban development in San Antonio. Growth has only really occurred in the last decade, so there is lots of potential. The early tone is heavily conservative, as befits a suburban Texas county. The property tax issue isn’t as great here, and it benefits from Texas’s very conservative friendly atmosphere. In that respect, it is the anti-California.

85. Sarpy County, Neb.
Largest city: Bellevue

Sarpy County is where Lewis and Clark entered the state of Nebraska for the first time. Today, it is the fast growing suburbs of Omaha, which itself leans Republican. If Omaha leans Republican, Sarpy County belly flops to the right. It is an affluent county with lots of young families — something it has in common with most counties on the list. It also houses a major Air Force base.

84. Scott County, Minn.
Largest city: Shakopee

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes. It could also be viewed as the state with 10,000(-plus) liberals. This one state produced Hubert H. Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone and Al Franken. However, growth in the suburban Twin Cities has shifted Minnesota to the right. The fastest-growing places are like Scott County, a county south of Minneapolis that has doubled in population in the last 20 years. It is not overwhelmingly Republican, but it has the single highest rate of home ownership on this list.  Minnesota has become a swing state in large part due to a series of counties like this.

83. Orange County, Calif.
Largest city: Santa Ana

No other county on this list is as famous for its conservatism as Orange County. This southern California county of 3 million possesses such conservative institutions as Disneyland, the Crystal Cathedral, Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and an airport named after John Wayne. It has been as close to free-market as possible, allowing a major land developer to pretty much determine the course of the southern part of the county for decades. While Ronald Reagan didn’t live here, nowhere in America shared Reagan’s vision more closely. Thirty or 40 years ago, Orange County likely would have topped this list.

Why is it all the way down at number 83? To be honest, its inclusion is based more upon its intangibles and historical conservatism than its present reality. Much of it is not the county’s fault. The California housing crunch has undermined its previously enviable standard of living. Orange County, the definition of bourgeois comfort, now has a home ownership rate below the national average. It still is generally Republican, but the county went from giving Reagan 75 percent to giving George W. Bush 59 percent to McCain squeaking by with 50.2 percent of the vote. All of the long-term problems afflicting conservatism — a more diverse America, dominance of public sector unions, coastal/elite secularism, have hit here hard.

82. Wagoner County, Okla.
Largest city: Coweta

Wagoner County is a suburb of Tulsa, itself a Republican stronghold, that is just beginning to develop. Oklahoma was McCain’s single best state in 2008, and Wagoner County was even more Republican than the state average. It isn’t inordinately wealthy, but the mostly new residents are getting by just fine. Considering that Tulsa is a booming city, this promises to be one of the fastest growing counties in America the next few decades.

81. Rogers County, Okla.
Largest city: Claremore

The story is similar here. This suburb of Tulsa is just developing. The county embodies some of the contradictions of modern conservatism. It is highly educated but also strictly religious (Oral Roberts hails from Tulsa). Similarly, it is one of the wealthiest counties in the Plain States, but more affluent counties nationwide are more liberal, not more conservative. Claremore was home to one of the first Wal-Marts outside of Arkansas.

Look tomorrow for part two, numbers 80-61.