Missouri and Illinois Primary Results Foretell Tough Climb for Cruz, Unity Challenge for Clinton

By McDermott, Kevin | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 17, 2016 | Go to article overview

Missouri and Illinois Primary Results Foretell Tough Climb for Cruz, Unity Challenge for Clinton


McDermott, Kevin, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


ST. LOUIS * Ted Cruz's tissue-thin loss to Donald Trump in Tuesday's Missouri Republican presidential primary demonstrated some surprising electoral strength for the Texas senator in urban and collegiate areas, as he won the Kansas City and Mizzou regions and fought almost to a draw in and around St. Louis.

But the sprawling sources of billionaire Trump's victories here and in neighboring Illinois should give Cruz supporters pause as the primaries move on to other states.

Data show Trump won Missouri on the strength of almost unbroken popularity among voters along the Iowa border to the north, across the Ozarks to the south, and down into the Bootheel area the very kinds of rural-conservative bastions on which Cruz has staked his candidacy even as he also took most of rural Illinois, the Metro East and the Chicago region.

It was one more example of the blustery billionaire smashing the usual boundaries of electoral demographics. "Right now, he is like a runaway freight train," said Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

On the Democratic side, the question after Tuesday's five-state sweep by Hillary Clinton is no longer whether Bernie Sanders can beat her to the nomination a realistic path is no longer there but whether she can count on his supporters to rally around her for the general election this fall.

Results in Missouri and Illinois show the Vermont senator got his expected boost from college towns, but also from many of the same kinds of rural enclaves where Trump's insurgent campaign found so many votes. It could mean that Sanders' support is coming in part from those who aren't voting for something, but rather against something the "establishment." That opens the question of whether those voters will ever back such a quintessentially establishment candidate as Clinton.

Of the five states that voted Tuesday, Missouri ended up with the nail-biters of the night, in both the Democratic and Republican primaries.

Front-runners Clinton and Trump both won their respective primaries, but second-runners Sanders and Cruz were close enough that there is talk in both parties of recounts. In both primaries, the two top candidates were separated by fewer than 2,000 votes.

CRUZ TAKES EVANGELICAL VOTE

On the Republican side, the good news for Cruz is that he dominated in southwestern Missouri, the state's most heavily evangelical area, besting Trump by about 20 points in some counties there. Evangelicals are a bloc Cruz has wooed and yet has lost to Trump in some other contests.

The fact that Cruz also won in Kansas City, in effect tied Trump in St. Louis County and was close to him in St. Louis city was a somewhat unexpected bonus.

But Trump's complete dominance across the rural areas of both Missouri and Illinois stands out dramatically in the voting data. In Illinois, Cruz's wins were mostly confined to one group of counties around Springfield and another on the north-central border, around Rockford.

Worse, for Cruz, is that Trump won in both the rural areas of the state and the urban areas around Chicago and the Metro East. In the Chicago area, Cruz actually fell to third, behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

"What it showed is Trump's enormous strength across the board," said Ken Warren, political science professor at St. Louis University. "He is still baffling pundits by winning in virtually all the demographics. In Illinois, (Trump) did pretty much the same thing. He lost among evangelicals to Cruz, but not by much."

Chicago in particular is noteworthy because Trump's comfortable win there 40 percent of the vote in Cook County, about 15 points up from Kasich, his closest competitor came days after violence between Trump's supporters and protesters caused him to cancel a rally there, sparking a renewed national debate about the anger in and around his events. That has led to some speculation that public backlash against anti-Trump protesters might have helped Trump in Chicago. …

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