March 9, 2016 11:13:56 AM
There was little drama attached to Tuesday's presidential primaries in Mississippi, where party front-runners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won easily.
Statewide, Trump earned 47 percent of the GOP vote (191,216 votes) with Ted Cruz finishing second with 36 percent (146,543) -- John Kasich (35,717 votes) and Marco Rubio (20,691) languished far behind.
On the Democratic side, Clinton picked up 83 percent of the vote (182,282) while just 16 percent of the votes went to Bernie Sanders (36,284).
Clinton's statewide results were mirrored in Golden Triangle counties, where Clinton outpaced Sanders by almost a 5-to-1 margin -- 10,136 votes to 2,066.
It was a much different story locally in the GOP race, with Cruz just barely edging out Trump in the Golden Triangle.
Cruz won Oktibbeha and Noxubee counties while Trump won in Lowndes and Clay counties. Combined, Cruz collected 43 more votes than Trump in those four counties.
While the turnout was considered "normal" by election officials in Lowndes, Noxubee and Clay counties, the turnout was noticeably higher among Oktibbeha County Republicans.
Republicans showed up en masse to the county's 21 precincts, shattering the turnout numbers recorded in the GOP's last two presidential primaries.
Approximately 4,936 ballots were cast in the Republican Primary. In 2012, 3,693 GOP voters participated in the primary. Four years prior, only 2,411 people voted in the GOP primary.
Oktibbeha County GOP Chairman Marnita Henderson attributed the high turnout and newfound energy within the Republican Party to the dissatisfaction many conservatives have with the federal government and with Mississippi's languishing economy.
"People are angry. They're tired and they're frustrated. Nothing is getting done, so they're looking for someone from the outside," she said. "This is probably the weirdest election cycle I've seen as a Republican. In the past, (the party's nomination process) has been fairly well laid out -- you knew where it was going. We still have some fairly large states coming up, like Florida and Ohio. Things could turn on a dime."
Democratic Primary turnout in Oktibbeha County declined compared to the last challenged primary held in 2008.
Despite the downturn, Oktibbeha County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Taylor said his constituents remain energized and will put a Democrat back in the Oval Office.
Taylor said Mississippi Democrats, especially the party's African-American wing, see Hillary Clinton as an extension of Bill Clinton's eight years in office. They also want to build on Obama's legacy, he said.
"The main problem with Bernie is Bernie is thinking outside of the box, and that's too much for Mississippians," Taylor said.
Support for both candidates was evidenced at the predominantly-black Hunt precinct in Columbus.
Percolia Craddieth, 24, said she voted for Sanders because she liked his message on jobs.
"I listened to the candidates, but when I made the decision I just felt like Bernie was the best choice for me," she said. "I've been out of work for three years. Finding a job is just tough. That was the biggest issue for me."
Herman Hairston 48, also voted at Hunt. His choice was Clinton.
"She's the wife of Bill Clinton and she's had a lot of experience," said Hairston, who is disabled. "I just think it's time for a woman to step up. We've had our first black president, so now maybe it's time for us to have our first woman as president. Let's see what she can do."
The Clinton win continues the former secretary of state's strong performance in the South, fueled by the heavy support of African-American voters.
Trump gained a huge margin among Republicans who wanted a candidate who "tells it like it is," while Ted Cruz ran strong among people who identify as very conservative and those wanting a candidate who shares their values, according to early results of exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and television networks.
Early results of the exit polls also showed black voters overwhelmingly chose Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. She also won a sizeable majority among white voters, who were about a third of overall Democratic primary voters Tuesday.
Before Tuesday, Clinton had won primaries in every state that neighbors Mississippi.
Mississippi was awarding 40 Republican and 36 Democratic delegates in the presidential race.
Trump and Cruz campaigned in Mississippi on Monday, and John Kasich was in the state last week. Marco Rubio has not personally campaigned in the state, but like other candidates he is promoting local endorsements. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant endorsed Cruz on Monday.
The biggest loser Tuesday turned out to be Rubio, whose vote total -- both statewide and in all Golden Triangle Counties -- was in the single digits.
Besides the presidential nominations, area Democrats and Republicans also decided who will represent their respective parties in November's 1st and 3rd Congressional District races.
In the 1st Congressional District, first-term U.S. Rep. Trent Kelly, a Republican, will appear on the November ballot against three other opponents: Democrat Jacob Owens, Reform Party candidate Cathy L. Toole and Libertarian Chase Wilson.
Kelly won the Republican Primary, beating first-time candidate Paul Clever of Olive Branch with 89 percent of the districtwide vote.
Owens ran unopposed.
Kelly, a former district attorney, won a special election last year and filled the vacancy created by Rep. Alan Nunnelee's death.
In November's 3rd Congressional District race, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper will face Democrat Dennis Quinn and Reform Party candidate Lajena Sheets.
Harper beat Pearl beekeeper Jimmy Giles in Tuesday's Republican Primary with about 89 percent of the district vote.
Quinn, who has served as a Magnolia alderman, beat Rankin County's Nathan Stewart with about 66 percent of the district vote.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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