U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT, and Donald Trump emerged victorious in Rhode Island’s presidential primary Tuesday, winning 13 and nine delegates in the state’s Democratic and Republican races, respectively. Sanders won 55 percent of the vote compared to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 43 percent, while Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, won 64, 24 and 10 percent respectively.
While a win was expected for Trump — who also swept the other four Tuesday races — Sanders’ victory was somewhat of a surprise, especially in a state primary whose results had been virtually unpredictable. A poll released by the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy predicted that Clinton would lead Sanders by 10 percent, The Herald previously reported.
“It’s certainly an impressive victory for Sanders,” said Richard Arenberg, adjunct lecturer in international and public affairs. “If he was going to win anywhere tonight it would be Rhode Island or Connecticut, but he’s definitely won in an impressive fashion,” he added.
Sanders’ win was likely aided by Rhode Island’s working-class voters, a pillar of his grassroots campaign, Arenberg said. He added that Rhode Island’s was the only open primary of Tuesday, meaning independent voters, another mainstay of Sanders’ campaign, could vote in the Democratic race. “He’s done very well with independent voters across the country, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that helped him tonight,” Arenberg said.
While less unexpected, Trump’s performance in Rhode Island’s Republican primary was still as impressive. “This is just a smashing victory for Trump,” Arenberg said. “We haven’t seen all the votes, but it certainly looks like he’ll take away the lion’s share of delegates.”
“It puts him in a very strong position going into Indiana,” Arenberg said, adding that “after tonight’s results it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine the Republican convention denying Trump the nomination.” In order to do that, Trump would have to first win a large majority of California’s delegates June 7, something that’s “certainly a doable thing,” he said.
The primary results come after some voters had difficulty finding their polling locations.
“Nobody in my neighborhood knew where to vote,” said Hillary Salmons, a voter who spent over an hour visiting polling stations before she found the correct one. Salmons found fault with the Secretary of State’s office, which she said failed to properly notify voters on where to find their designated polling stations. “What is wrong with our democracy if we can’t even get a notice on where to vote?” she said.
One possible explanation for the mix-up is that the Rhode Island Board of Elections only opened 144 out of the state’s 419 polling stations this primary cycle, causing possible confusion for voters who were unable to use stations typically open for general elections, WPRI reported.
“Polling stations for the past 16 years at least have been reduced for presidential primaries,” said Miguel Nunez, a planning and program development specialist at the Board of Elections. The cutbacks were made to save costs as far fewer voters participate in primary as opposed to general elections, he added. The Board of Elections predicted a turnout rate of at least 30 percent for this year’s primary, in line with the 32 percent that voted in the 2008 primary where “there were no issues in voting,” Nunez said.
“The Board of Canvassers gave me the wrong location, and it took me almost an hour to find where to go today,” said Violet Falk, adding that “it’s honestly like they didn’t want us to vote.” Falk explained that she had to visit three different polling locations before finding the correct one, but emphasized that she wasn’t going to give up as long as it meant supporting her ideal candidate: Trump.
“I need change, a change in everything,” Falk said. “I like that he has his own money because when you have your own money, you can afford to think how you like,” she added. While Trump is her ideal candidate, Falk said she “wouldn’t cry” if he doesn’t win the nomination, as the other Republican candidates are just as appealing to her.
But a Trump ticket is becoming increasingly likely, as is the chance of him winning the nomination before the Republican National Convention in July, Arenberg said.
“To the extent that there’s unbound delegates there’ll be a lot of pressure on them to support Trump,” Arenberg said. “If he goes into the convention with upwards of 1,100 or 1,200 delegates, … I think he might very well win it outright,” he added.
“It’s just a regular guy versus some politicians,” said Gerald Price about Trump, his favored choice. “I don’t agree with 100 percent of what he says, but I believe that he really has a plan to make America great again.”
But Laura Rodzinak, a supporter of Sanders, had a different view: “Trump would be the worst-case scenario,” she said, adding, “he’s a horribly racist, misogynistic person.”
The rhetoric of the Republican party was off-putting to Caroline Beal, who considered the debates of that party “akin to an episode of the Jerry Springer Show.” She instead voted for Sanders, whom she said “needs all the votes he can get to achieve the vision of what he wants for America.”
While he believed that “Bernie’s heart is in the right place,” Glenn Fontecchio doubted whether his ideas were electable and instead voted for Clinton. “I think that Hillary is tenacious enough to get stuff done,” he added.
Arenberg was similarly doubtful of whether or not Sanders would be able to win the nomination. “I’m very skeptical about that,” he said. “Obviously the door is never closed until it’s closed, but I think the climb for him is pretty steep.”
Still, Sanders’ progressive campaign has done a great deal to shift the Democratic party left and will likely impact the general election, Arenberg said. “Sanders has played a positive role even if he’s not the nominee,” he said. “If Hillary Clinton is the democratic nominee, he’s certainly played a big role in strengthening her.”