JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Missouri is historically a politically divided state, splitting closely between Democrats and Republicans. This week’s presidential primaries revealed those divisions also run deeply within each party.
Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump each led their challengers by a mere two-tenths of a percentage point Wednesday after all the precincts had reported results. The two primaries were the closest ones yet in the national presidential campaign, and too tight for The Associated Press to declare a winner.
Missouri voters divided between perceived establishment and outsider candidates in each party. They split ideologically over whether to back candidates on their parties’ conservative or liberal wings. And they separated demographically in their preferences, sometimes by age, race, gender and education.
“We have an interesting mix, and I think those dynamics make for the interesting political gumbo that is Missouri politics,” state Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple said Wednesday. Whenever “both sides are well-funded and you have two really strong candidates, statewide elections in Missouri are very, very close.”
That’s something on which Democrats and Republicans can agree.
“I think as it reflects the deep divisions that exist in the country, you saw that in Missouri perhaps more starkly than any place else thus far in the nominating process,” said Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock.
The Republican primary offered a choice among a pair of candidates embraced by some in the GOP establishment — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich — and two others often at odds with party leaders. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appealed to the party’s most conservative factions. Trump appealed to those wanting “somebody that was completely outside the Republican establishment,” Hancock said. Trump and Cruz together split more than 80 percent of the Republican votes.
About half of Republican voters said they preferred an outsider rather than someone with experience in politics — and of those voters, two-thirds favored Trump and one-quarter went for Cruz, according to exit polls conducted for The AP and television networks by Edison Research.
In the Democratic primary, Clinton was more closely tied to the party establishment, enjoying the backing of most of Missouri’s top Democratic officials. Sanders was more often supported by those looking for change or a more liberal social agenda. In exit polls, Sanders received support from about two-thirds of voters who said they wanted someone who cares about them. Clinton received 9 in 10 votes among those who valued experience the most.
In well more than a dozen counties — covering parts of the Kansas City suburbs, Columbia, Jefferson City, Joplin, Springfield and Cape Girardeau — a plurality of primary voters opted for Cruz and Sanders, two candidates who would appear to be ideological opposites. But that’s not necessarily inconsistent.
“It tells you that there is something of an anger — a dissatisfaction — in the public this election cycle,” said Marvin Overby, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “People don’t always know how to direct that dissatisfaction and that anger, they’re just looking for someone who is an alternative.”
Political analysts said Trump’s presence in the Republican primary makes it a little harder to dissect the reasons for the political divisions. That’s because Trump was a national figure — an outspoken businessman and TV reality show host — before he became a blunt-spoken candidate who has consistently defied conventional political expectations.
“Trump is so unusual — in every way that you want to define that,” said Jeremy Walling, an associate political science professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
But Walling believes there may be some commonality in the close Democratic and Republican primaries.
“Maybe what we see in this election is just everybody being fed up with the status quo — however they define what that thing is,” he said.