AP NEWS

Biden wins Missouri Democratic primary as momentum builds

March 11, 2020 GMT
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves to supporters during a campaign rally Monday, March 9, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., waves to supporters during a campaign rally Monday, March 9, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Joe Biden won the Democratic primary in Missouri on Tuesday, adding to momentum that began on Super Tuesday while consolidating support among moderate voters in crucial conservative-leaning states.

Biden defeated Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Missouri in his push for the chance to face Republican President Donald Trump in November.

The candidate’s ability to beat Trump was seen as vital by Missouri’s Democratic primary voters, according to a poll of 1,858 voters in Missouri conducted by AP VoteCast for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. About 9 in 10 voters said it was very important to pick a nominee who could beat the president.

Black Missouri voters were especially supportive of Biden — about three quarters picked him over Sanders. Among them was Keith Williams, 72, of Ferguson. He voted for Biden, even though he fears it won’t matter in the fall election.

“I’ll vote for Biden in November, but I don’t think Trump will lose,” Williams, shaking his head, said.

But another black voter, 70-year-old Charles Jones of Jefferson City, felt better about Biden, saying he believes he can unify a fractured nation.

“He’s just a down-home man,” Jones said. “I trust him.”

The Associated Press called the Missouri race at poll closing, before any results were released, because the AP VoteCast survey showed Biden with a wide lead. It also showed the lead was spread through all parts of the state, among both men and women, as well as among both white voters and African American voters. The AP also called Mississippi for Biden at poll closing.

Things didn’t always go smoothly at election sites across Missouri. A polling place in St. Louis had to relocate after a man who had just voted backed his vehicle into the building and went back inside and knocked over equipment. St. Louis County had polling site equipment problems. The mayor of Kansas City reported trouble — with his own ballot.

No one was hurt in the incident in St. Louis and the man was taken into custody, but it took nearly an hour before voters could be redirected to another polling place, the city’s election director, Gary Stoff, said.

“I don’t think there was anything about his voting -- at least he didn’t give any indication — that caused him to explode the way he did,” Stoff said. “Right now, we really don’t know why.”

Election Day got off to a rough start in St. Louis County, Missouri’s most populous county, when the electronic poll books, used to check people in, had trouble syncing with the county’s system. The problem was compounded with some poll workers failed to switch to a manual system to print ballots.

The problems were apparently resolved within the first hour, but some voters turned away in frustration without casting ballots. Stream estimated that at least 50 of the county’s roughly 400 polling sites were impacted.

“They got flustered,” said St. Louis County Election Director Rick Stream. “Voters left, they had to go to work. That’s on us, we should have had everything working properly.”

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said he struggled to vote at his polling site because workers couldn’t find his name on the voter registration list. He said it turned out that his name had been entered backwards — with his last name listed as his first name.

Missouri, Michigan and Mississippi — where Biden claimed victories Tuesday — were among six states holding presidential primaries, along with Idaho, North Dakota and Washington. Biden was looking to build upon the momentum from last week’s primary victories in what has become essentially a head-to-head battle with Sanders.

Patrick Sanders, a 22-year-old college student in Kansas City, said he voted for the presidential candidate with his same last name, partly because of his ideas for expanding health care coverage.

“There is a shot with him of something that is different, that is much more hopeful than what we have now,” Sanders said.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination could face an uphill battle to carry Missouri in November against Trump. The last Democrat to carry Missouri was President Bill Clinton, in 1996. Barack Obama narrowly lost in Missouri in 2008, but the state has turned decidedly Republican since then. Mitt Romney carried Missouri by 9 percentage points in 2012, and Trump won the state by 19 percentage points on the way to victory in 2016.

Concerns about the coronavirus forced some late scrambling in Kansas City and St. Louis County, when two senior living facilities backed out of serving as voting sites less than 24 hours before the polls opened. Election authorities posted signs at the facilities redirecting voters to a nearby church in Kansas City and a union hall in the St. Louis suburbs.

About 150 of the 3,200 poll workers in St. Louis County canceled shortly before the election because of coronavirus concerns, as did 77 of the roughly 800 poll workers in Kansas City, local election officials said.

Some polling places provided hand sanitizer for voters and stocked up on disinfectant wipes for the equipment and pens. Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller said special gloves were available for people to sign in or vote on touchscreens, and voters also were welcome to bring their own pens to mark paper ballots.

“We want them to feel comfortable exercising the right to vote,” Schoeller said.

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Salter reported from St. Louis. Associated Press writer Heather Hollingsworth and Margaret Stafford in Kansas City contributed to this report.