The presidential primary race in Missouri may be too close to call, a poll released Friday shows.
As a result, leading presidential candidates and their surrogates planned to spend at least part of their weekends in a hectic dash across the state before Tuesday’s primaries. All four leading candidates — Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders — are expected to campaign in Missouri on Saturday, including scheduled stops by Trump and Cruz in Kansas City.
Until now, Missouri has been overshadowed by the bigger Tuesday prizes in Ohio, Florida, Illinois and North Carolina. But a close race and the chance of picking up a handful of Missouri’s convention delegates have persuaded several candidates to invest time and energy in the state in the final hours.
“I don’t think any of these candidates is taking anything for granted,” said Jim Staab, a political science professor at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. “They still see it as competitive. They also see it as a defining day on Tuesday.”
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Trump campaigned Friday in St. Louis in an event marked by protests and a packed audience. He said his candidacy had brought millions of new voters to the polls.
“If the Republican so-called establishment is smart,” he said, “they will embrace it. Because there’s no way we can lose.”
At the same hour, former president Bill Clinton campaigned for his spouse, Hillary, in Kansas City. He planned a Friday afternoon stop in Springfield, Mo.
“We’ve carried Missouri twice, and we want to do it again,” Bill Clinton told the Kansas City audience.
Cruz sent his wife, Heidi, into the state Friday. Former rival Carly Fiorina also campaigned in Missouri for Cruz.
All the appearances suggest the candidates believe Missouri’s presidential verdict remains up for grabs.
Here are some reasons that might be true:
▪ The races in both parties are too close to call.
Trump and Hillary Clinton lead in their primaries, according to a poll published Friday by The Kansas City Star and a handful of Missouri newspapers, but the survey’s wide margin of error leaves the outcome in doubt.
The survey, conducted March 3-10, showed Trump leading the Republican field with 36 percent support among those in the GOP who said they planned to vote. Cruz was in second place with 29 percent.
Sen. Marco Rubio was third at 9 percent, and Gov. John Kasich was fourth at 8 percent. Both are campaigning hard in their home states of Florida and Ohio and are not expected to compete in Missouri.
For Democrats, Clinton led Sen. Bernie Sanders 47 percent to 40 percent.
The survey was conducted by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. Its margin of error for Republicans was plus or minus 7 percentage points; for Democrats, it was 8 percentage points.
▪ Missouri is the only primary state Tuesday that does not offer some form of early voting.
Missouri allows absentee ballots, but a voter must have an authorized reason to cast such a vote. All the other states allow no-excuse absentee ballots.
That means the vast majority of the 1.3 million Missourians expected to cast ballots won’t vote until Tuesday and might be persuaded to switch their support in the final days.
Clinton, Sanders and Cruz are advertising heavily on Kansas City television over the weekend, as are some political action committees. Trump is relying on free media coverage, as he has in other states.
▪ Both parties are holding open primaries.
That means Democrats, Republicans and independents can cross over and cast ballots in either primary, potentially making the outcome less certain.
“It is so difficult to develop a reliable turnout model in primaries, particularly in essentially open primaries like in Missouri,” said Joel Paddock, a political science professor at Missouri State University in Springfield.
In other open primary and caucus states, Trump has picked up support from blue collar workers normally aligned with Democrats. Sanders has picked up votes from independents and younger voters unaffiliated with either party.
▪ Even a losing effort can capture delegates.
That’s an important factor at this stage of the campaign, when the focus turns to actual convention votes.
Republicans will allocate 52 convention delegates proportionally, unless one of the candidates gets more than 50 percent of the vote. In that case, it’s winner take all.
But a candidate can pick up five delegates by winning a congressional district, even if he slips below his opponents’ totals statewide.
Democrats will pick 71 delegates out of 84 allocated to Missouri. They’ll be awarded proportionally.
The 13 others are superdelegates, officially unpledged. Most have said they’re supporting Clinton.
While analysts think Trump and Clinton are the favorites in Missouri, they don’t rule out an upset.
That’s particularly true on the GOP side of the ballot. Cruz has won in states with a strong religious turnout, and socially conservative Republicans have turned out to vote in the state for years. While John McCain eked out a victory over Mike Huckabee in 2008, religious conservative Rick Santorum took a nonbinding Missouri primary four years ago.
Cruz’s campaign is being run by Jeff Roe, a native and a veteran of political warfare in the state.
“It is certainly possible that Cruz could win Missouri,” Paddock said.
On the Democratic side, Sanders spoke in Kansas City in late February. His opposition to free trade agreements may attract support in some parts of the state battered by manufacturing layoffs.
Sanders’ Michigan victory is a template for a Missouri win, some analysts say.
But Clinton’s appeal remains strong. She has picked up endorsements from much of the state’s Democratic hierarchy, including Mayor Sly James of Kansas City, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and Sen. Claire McCaskill.
She is also considered a more conservative Democrat than Sanders.
“It’s going to be a hard one for Bernie Sanders to win,” Staab said. “She seems to be doing so well in the Southern states, and Missouri kind of lines up with all those states.”