True to national predictions, Missouri’s presidential primaries ended up being Tuesday night’s nail-biters, with no clear winner declared as of dawn. Although Democrat Bernie Sanders led the vote tallies most of the night, the late returns from the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County put Hillary Clinton on top – by just over 1,500 votes.
Republican Donald Trump appears to have defeated rival Ted Cruz by less than 1,800 votes, but the results aren't conclusive.
But the narrative for the two front-runners is different. Clinton’s lead, narrow though it is, will likely be seen as a semi-victory by the state’s Democratic establishment, almost all of whom were behind her.
But Trump’s lead will be seen as a loss by Missouri GOP's establishment, who all preferred somebody else. The biggest losers are the big names, including former Gov. Christopher “Kit” Bond, who had backed Marco Rubio – who did poorly Tuesday in Missouri and everywhere else. Rubio lost his home state of Florida and has suspended his campaign.
Cruz’s apparent defeat is narrow and could still be interpreted as a demonstration of his organization’s strength, led by Kansas City-based GOP consultant Jeff Roe, Cruz’s campaign manager. Roe was likely behind the candidate’s weekend blitz that hit the state’s biggest evangelical strongholds, and almost paid off.
In both primaries, the losers will collect a share of the Missouri delegates at stake. In fact, Sanders may end up with the same number as Clinton, or close to it.
Trump and Cruz showed pockets of strength
According to preliminary analysis of the results, Trump managed to outflank Cruz throughout most of outstate Missouri.
For instance, Trump won a collection of central Missouri counties by about 4,000 votes, and he also prevailed in southeast Missouri by more than 9,000 votes. He easily won most of sparsely populated northwest and northeast Missouri, as well.
Trump also did slightly better than Cruz throughout the St. Louis region. He won a solid victory in Jefferson County, a growing suburban area that’s an epicenter for organized labor. And he also prevailed in the city of St. Louis, St. Charles, Franklin and Lincoln counties.
Trump’s margin of victory was much smaller in St. Louis County, where he only ended up with 141 more votes than Cruz.
In fact, it appears Cruz performed reasonably well in the three spots where he held big rallies last week – St. Louis County, Cape Girardeau and Springfield. He also won a slew of counties in central and southwest Missouri, which is home to a fairly large contingent of Republicans.
And even though Trump held an event in Kansas City, Cruz won that municipality and most of the Kansas City region. He also won a contingent of highly-populated central Missouri counties, including Boone and Cole Counties.
Clinton’s victory echoed Obama’s win in 2008
On the Democratic side, Clinton won decisively in the St. Louis and Kansas City region. But Sanders did fairly well in some suburban counties. For instance: He carried Jefferson and St. Charles counties. And on the western side of the state, Sanders prevailed in Clay and Platte counties.
And in perhaps an even bigger surprise, Sanders put a dent in Clinton’s earlier strength in outstate Missouri. When she ran against then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton lost only six Missouri counties – even though she ended up narrowly losing statewide.
This time around, Sanders picked up dozens of rural counties in every region of the state. And he also captured more votes than Clinton in the Springfield area, including a roughly 7,400-vote win in Greene County.
Sanders told St. Louis Public Radio in an interview earlier Tuesday that he believed the nation’s “disastrous trade deals’’ over the past 20 years were the biggest factor in his Missouri support. Sanders noted that Clinton had backed many of those deals, which critics contend contributed to a massive loss of manufacturing jobs in Missouri and other once-industrial states.
But former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, who backs Clinton, contends that her victories Tuesday in the other four primary states bolster another narrative. “It sends a very strong message that she has the ability to unite their nation and lead us into the 21st century global economy.”
To some degree, Clinton advanced statewide with the same coalition of Democratic voters – notably African Americans -- who had supported Obama eight years ago. In 2008, Obama’s win was a nail-biter as well.
Trump, Clinton also carry Illinois
Clinton and Trump won their respective primaries across the river in Illinois, but their victories – while tight -- were slightly larger than their wins in Missouri.
Trump defeated Cruz by 117,000 votes, while Clinton edged out Sanders by about 27,000 votes. The bulk of her support came from the urban areas around the state, including Democratic Chicago. Sanders carried most of rural Illinois.
Trump’s victory was broader, with the bulk of Cruz’s support in the center of Illinois – sort of a doughnut-hole effect.