(Updated 3 p.m. Tues, March 15)--On the eve of Tuesday’s crucial presidential primaries, some of the Democratic and Republican hopefuls are barnstorming Missouri and Illinois in a final quest for votes.
At this stage, the candidates are no longer seeking to woo new supporters. They are out to energize existing backers so they show up at the polls.
"I just hope that as many people as possible come out to vote,'' said Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in a telephone interview Tuesday with St. Louis Public Radio. "We do well when the voter turnout is high."
St. Louis County Democratic elections director Eric Fey said Tuesday afternoon that voter turnout has "been steady'' throughout the county, which is Missouri's largest voting bloc. About 15,000 people cast absentee ballots before Tuesday, which is a strong showing for a presidential primary.
Fey is estimating that more than 40 percent of county voters will cast a ballot Tuesday. All the votes will have to be counted before it's determined whether more Republicans or Democrats showed up at the polls.
Chelsea Clinton makes final campaign pitches for her mother
Democrat Hillary Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea Clinton, was traveling around the St. Louis area on Monday -- just days after her mother and father, former President Bill Clinton, had held rallies here. And Monday night, Sanders held a rally at the St. Charles Family Arena – his second here in two days.
Chelsea Clinton’s stops included Almond’s, a restaurant in Clayton, where she laid out the stakes to allies packing the dining room. She is pregnant with her second child, a point that Chelsea Clinton highlighted as she ticked off her mother’s views on various issues.
Afterward, she told reporters, “I think Missouri is very important. I think, admittedly, I was raised to believe that every state, every vote is important. It’s why I’ve been traveling so much on behalf of my mom’s campaign, to talk about what’s at stake in this election. About why I so strongly support my mom and believe that she’s the candidate we need in November.”
Chelsea Clinton challenged any perceptions that Sanders supporters are more energized, saying that her mother has collected the most votes nationally of any of the candidates in either party.
In her pitch for support, she added, “I would hope that any voter of any age would look at what a candidate has done as a real harbinger of what they’ll be able to do’’ as president.
“I hope that will matter to voters,’’ Chelsea Clinton said. “My mother has a record of doing what she plans to do.”
Later Monday, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. and a Clinton supporter, told reporters that she was concerned that some Republicans might "cross over'' -- allowed under Missouri's voting laws -- and take a Democratic ballot in order to vote for Sanders, who she said some Republicans believe would be a weaker opponent than Clinton.
McCaskill said she'd been looking at the breakdown of votes in Michigan, another "open primary" state that Sanders narrowly won. Post-election examinations of the returns determined that Clinton actually had garnered more votes among Democrats. But Sanders won the Democratic primary because of a surge of support from independents -- and some Republicans -- who took Democratic ballots.
McCaskill acknowledged that there's no way to verify crossovers in Missouri, because the state -- unlike Michigan -- doesn't have voter registration by party, and keeps no record of which party's primary ballot a voter opted to take.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, Republican candidate Ted Cruz was marking a series of campaign stops Monday all over the state. He held a series of rallies last Saturday in Missouri, including a morning event at Parkway West High School.
Sanders in St. Charles
Meanwhile, Sanders burst into traditionally Republican St. Charles County to jolt an excited crowd to go the polls Tuesday.
“It looks like to me that Missouri is ready for a political revolution!” Sanders declared to rapturous applause.
Roughly 5,500 people flowed into the Family Arena to catch a glimpse of the Vermont senator. Sanders has made a big effort to pick up delegates in Illinois and Missouri, as evidenced by his recent rallies in Edwardsville, Affton as well as St. Charles.
Much of Sanders’ speech was fairly similar to his earlier addresses: He chastised the nation’s “corrupt” campaign finance system; called for decreasing the number of people in jail; criticized the nation’s “War on Drugs;” and blasted what he saw as bad trade deals. But he wrapped up his nearly hour-long address with a fairly simple appeal to the crowd.
“We will win this election if there is a large voter turnout,” Sanders said. “We will lose if there is a low voter turnout. What I am asking you to now is to have this great state help lead the effort toward a political revolution. Come out and vote. Bring your friends and your neighbors!”
On the surface, Sanders has some disadvantages against Clinton. Most of the state’s key Democratic officials have back the former secretary of state’s campaign. And she carried most of Missouri’s rural counties in 2008 – which could spell trouble for Sanders if she can once again get African-American voters to her column.
But Sanders has performed well in rural parts of other states, like Michigan and Oklahoma. He’s also been pouring significant resources in running television ads around the St. Louis area. He’s banking on a strong turnout from younger voters – especially college students that find his advocacy for tuition-free college appealing.
And Sanders is not without his own political support – as evidenced by his endorsements from Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County, and St. Louis Alderman Megan Green.
“This election is about so much more than the Democratic socialist senator from Vermont that we have all come to love,” said Green, D-15th Ward. “It’s about channeling the rage and the anger from the disenfranchised masses into a political revolution that works for all of us. It’s about changing the course of American politics. And it’s about all of us waking up and walking the walk.”
Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, Sanders lamented on how few people gave him a chance against Clinton – and noted how he defied those expectations.
“Ten months have come and we have now won nine primaries and caucuses – almost all of them by double-digit numbers,” Sanders said. “And if there is a large turnout in Missouri tomorrow, we’re going to win this state. So if we’re going to make a political revolution, if we’re going to transform this country, if we’re going to have a government that represents all of us rather than a handful of wealthy campaign contributors – we need to win here. We need a large voter turnout. Help make that happen!”