JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump clung to slim advantages over their challengers in Missouri’s presidential primaries following victories in several other pivotal states that bolstered their standing as national front-runners.
Fewer than 2,000 votes separated Trump, the billionaire businessman, from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz out of about 925,000 that had been counted with nearly all precincts reporting early Wednesday.
Former Secretary of State Clinton led Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by a similarly close margin out of more than 623,000 votes counted.
The Associated Press has not declared a winner in either race.
Under Missouri law, candidates can request a recount if they lose by less than one-half of a percentage point. Both races fall within that margin.
Missouri was the only of Tuesday’s five primary states where the races were that close.
Clinton won all the rest – Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio – padding her delegate lead over Sanders.
Trump won delegate-rich Florida on Tuesday, causing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to suspend his presidential campaign. Trump also won North Carolina and Illinois but lost to Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Ohio’s winner-take-all primary.
Because of the way Missouri’s delegates are allotted, the Republican winner of the statewide vote stands to gain more than the Democratic victor.
Missouri’s 71 delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be awarded proportionally based on the votes candidates received statewide and in each of the state’s eight congressional districts. That means Clinton and Sanders are likely to fairly evenly split the total.
Of Missouri’s 52 Republican delegates, 12 will go to the top statewide vote-getter. The rest will be awarded in chunks of five to the winners in each of the state’s congressional districts. Cruz and Trump each are likely to get some delegates. For example, Cruz led in southwest Missouri’s 7th District while Trump led in southeast Missouri’s 8th District.
The close primary elections came after a weekend in which Cruz and Sanders each mounted an aggressive effort to cut into the front-runners’ standing in Missouri.
Cruz campaigned across the state Saturday, holding rallies in the St. Louis area, Kansas City, Cape Girardeau and Springfield. Sanders held Missouri rallies on each of the final three days leading up to the election.
Clinton and Trump also campaigned in Missouri. But Trump’s rallies in St. Louis and Kansas City were frequently interrupted by protesters. Police made arrests in both cities, and Kansas City police used pepper spray to disperse two groups that police said appeared ready to fight outside the theater hall hosting Trump’s event.
Republican primary voters who waited until the final week to decide whom they would support favored Cruz by a 2-to-1 margin over Trump, according to preliminary results of exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research. Among those who made up their minds earlier, more supported Trump.
On Tuesday, many voters were talking about Trump, whether they supported him or not.
“I know the way (Trump) presents himself sometimes turns people off. But maybe he’s a bit more honest. He’s open and lets it go, and we haven’t had anyone like that,” said Bobbie Watkins, a 70-year-old Belton resident who voted for Trump.
Patricia Johnson, a 67-year-old retired Kansas City teacher, praised Clinton’s foreign policy experience while contrasting her with the Republican front-runner.
“Trump scares me. I don’t think he’s at all qualified,” Johnson said. “All he has done is put forth a lot of hate and anger and stirred that up in people who maybe didn’t want to express those things before.”
Clinton had the support of many of Missouri’s top Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Gov. Jay Nixon and the executive director of the state Democratic Party, who took a one-month leave to direct Clinton’s campaign.
Republican U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, who also is up for re-election this year, declined to endorse anyone in the presidential primary but pledged to support the eventual Republican nominee.