Presidential candidates stump in St. Louis

Clinton, Cruz, Sanders, Trump hold rallies here

Surrounded by Secret Service agents, former First Lady and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton poses for selfies with supporters after her south county rally Saturday in advance of today's presidential primary.

Surrounded by Secret Service agents, former First Lady and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton poses for selfies with supporters after her south county rally Saturday in advance of today’s presidential primary.

By Gloria Lloyd

With the few polls available showing tight presidential primary races for both Democrats and Republicans in Missouri, the leading candidates all made their way to St. Louis over the weekend to make their case to voters.

Along with Missouri and Illinois, swing states Ohio, North Carolina and Florida hold primaries today — Tuesday — with polls open until 7 p.m.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both drew large crowds in south county this weekend — Clinton at the Nelson-Mulligan Carpenters’ Training Facility Saturday and Sanders at Affton High School Sunday. Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s downtown St. Louis rally turned violent Friday, and his closest rival Ted Cruz led a peaceful rally Saturday at Parkway West High School in Ballwin. Sanders held a second rally at the St. Charles Family Arena Monday night.

Introduced in Affton by Secretary of State Jason Kander, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Nathan Garrett, a third-year union apprentice at the Nelson-Mulligan union training facility, Hillary Clinton said she was so impressed with Garrett, “I think I may have found my running mate.”

Fresh from a tour of the training center, Clinton built her St. Louis speech around the idea that, just as the carpenters understand that their training only thrives as a partnership between unions and businesses, America will only move forward once diverse people unite for a common cause.

“Our values, our diversity, our openness — those are strengths, not weaknesses,” she said, continuing with a nod to her union surroundings. “So we’re not here to erect more walls — except when they hold up a house or a community building.”

The former U.S. secretary of state kicked off her 30-minute speech by denouncing the “ugly, divisive rhetoric” of Trump and his supporters, which took a violent turn with 32 arrests at Friday’s St. Louis rally and then further dissolved into mayhem at his Chicago rally Friday night, which he preemptively canceled for fear riots would break out.

“If you play with matches, you can start a fire you can’t control,” Clinton told the Affton crowd. “That is not leadership, it is political arson … If you see bigotry, you should oppose it. If you see violence, you should condemn it. And if you see a bully, you should stand up to them.”

Clinton went on to talk about what she called her positive plans for America: Celebrating LGBT rights like Missouri senators who filibustered last week, More training programs like Nelson-Mulligan, Challenging China on climate change, human rights and trade, diversifying the work force, adding mass transit and high speed rail and repairing the country’s aging infrastructure, including the Missisippi River locks.

Across St. Louis County at the same time, Republican contender and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced by former presidential candidate and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, told a packed house in west county that he’s the only candidate who can prevent both Trump and Clinton from becoming the next president.

“Let me say thank you to the men and women of Missouri for sending Ann Wagner to fight for you in the United States Congress,” Cruz said, holding up Wagner’s hand. “And how about Carly? Isn’t she extraordinary? A world-respected business leader who stands up and fights, and I gotta say it sure seems that Carly scares the living daylights out of Hillary Clinton.”

Referring to an FBI investigation into the private email server Clinton routed her emails through when she served as U.S. Secretary of State, Cruz added to big cheers, “I can almost see Hillary tossing and turning at night in her jail cell.”

Cruz called Missouri a battleground state where he is neck and neck with Trump and noted that he is the only Republican candidate who has enough delegates to defeat Trump for the nomination.

“It’s easy to talk about making America great — you can even print that on a baseball cap,” he said. “And they make those caps real cheap over in China.”

The Texas senator vowed to secure the borders, end welfare benefits and stop amnesty for illegal immigrants, reign in the federal bureaucracy of “alphabet soup” agencies that are “descending like locusts on small businesses,” appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, strengthen the military, support Israel and repeal Obamacare.

“You want to see the economy explode — lift the boot of the federal government off the backs of small businesses,” he said. “If I’m elected president, we will repeal every word of Obamacare. We’ll pass common sense healthcare reform that makes healthcare personal and portable and affordable and keeps the government from getting between us and our doctors. And we will pass a simple flat tax so that every American can fill out our taxes on a postcard. And when we do that, we should abolish the IRS.”

At Clinton’s rally, the former U.S. secretary of state acknowledged that she is frequently the target of Republican barbs, but said there’s a good reason for it.

“Why are Republicans, whenever I run for anything, always trying to beat me?” she asked. “Because they know I say what I mean and I do what I say.”

Cinton was also a theme of Sanders’ Sunday speech in Affton, with the senator from Vermont emphasizing that he has always fought for the middle class in Congress while Clinton has focused on taking millions of dollars in donations and speech fees from Wall Street.

Introduced by actor Danny DeVito in a video that has since gone viral, Sanders emphasized his support for diversity and equality and vowed to establish free tuition at public universities, paid family and medical leave, equal pay for equal work for women, boost Social Security and make healthcare a right, hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour and offer a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants. He pledged to pay for it all by taxing Wall Street.

As seen in the many constituencies that came out in force to Clinton’s Saturday rally — “NEA for Hillary,” “AFT for Hillary,” “Labor 4 Hillary,” “Educators for Hillary” – Clinton emphasized during her Affton appearance that virtually every union in the country has endorsed her.

But Sanders said that the unions agree with him on a major issue that may not be “sexy” enough for the media to cover but has closed 50,000 U.S. factories since 2000: the array of “disastrous” free trade deals the United States has entered into that he said have shipped jobs overseas, especially the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and the Central America Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.

Under free trade, American factory workers directly compete with Vietnamese workers, he noted.

“I don’t think American workers should be forced to compete against workers who are working for 65 cents an hour — that’s wrong,” Sanders said. “And our message to corporate America is if they want us to purchase their products, they better start manufacturing those products in Missouri, Vermont and in America. All of us want to help the poorest people in the world, but you don’t have to destroy the middle class of this country to help poor people abroad.”

Sanders also drew a sharp contrast between his “sensible foreign policy” record and Clinton’s, especially their votes on the Iraq War, which she voted for and he voted against.

To boos from the crowd, Sanders noted, “Secretary Clinton was in the Senate then. She heard exactly the same evidence that I heard – she voted for that war.”

A day earlier, Clinton slammed Sanders because he didn’t vote to bail out the auto industry at the height of the Great Recession in 2009.

“I support providing help to exporters in Missouri, from small businesses to Boeing,” she said. “Which is why a lot of people in this state have good paying jobs.”

Sanders ended his speech by addressing Trump, noting that in many national polls he beats Trump even more than Clinton does and that the American people will reject a Trump presidency because “love trumps hatred.”

The one campaign issue Trump and Sanders agree is the need to back out of free trade deals. Trump managed to touch on that issue in a much-interrupted speech in St. Louis Friday despite repeated interruptions as protesters inside were arrested and, on Trump’s orders, forcibly removed from inside the Peabody Opera House.

The speech came to a halt for a full 15 minute-stretch at one point as Trump repeatedly commanded, “Get ‘em out” when protesters jumped up and yelled.

“I heard this was going to happen, and they said, ‘Mr. Trump, would you like to cancel?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not,’” Trump told the “USA, USA”-chanting crowd. “These are not the people that made our country great, but we’re going to make it great again. These are the people that are destroying our country. Get ‘em out, get ‘em out.”

Although Trump’s rallies have been actively protested for months, the St. Louis rally was the first one that actively broke into violence. Later on Friday, Trump cancelled his Chicago rally after police convinced him it would break out into a riot if it went on. Even though he was a no-show, his supporters and protesters got into skirmishes, and police made five arrests.

On Thursday, cameras caught a Trump supporter at a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., sucker-punching a protester being led out of the arena, and Trump said Sunday he may pay the man’s legal bills.

Considering the unrest in Ferguson, Trump said he expected to meet some resistance when he came to St. Louis.

“I was told it was going to happen here, because you have great people – but you also have people who are not so great,” he said. “Get ‘em out.”

Of the candidates, only Sanders referenced the Black Lives Matter movement that gained steam with the protests in Ferguson.

Clinton lauded Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri Senate Democrats for standing against right to work last year and filibustering against what she called an anti-LGBT discrimination bill last week, but she also said she will focus on the Missouri economy as president.

“That will be my job as president, I will be looking every single day in the White House, looking at economic data and saying what are we going to do to raise income?” Clinton said. “How are we doing in St. Louis? How are we doing in Chicago? How are we doing in Cleveland? Are we lifting people up? Are we giving them a better chance to achieve their potential? That’s what it’s about for me.”

In their final pitches, the candidates stressed the importance of the Missouri primary to their presidential hopes.

Clinton said, “Join me, join Nathan Garrett, join the carpenters’ union, join everybody that wants to fight for America to get the results – if you fight for me, if you vote for me, I can tell you this: I will do everything I can every single hour of every single day to deliver results for all of you. Let’s go build the future that America deserves.”

Noting that Missouri is a battleground state and a “dead heat” between him and Trump, Cruz said it all comes down to voter turnout.

“There’s about 3,000 people gathered in this gym,” he said. “If every one of us here gets nine other people, that is 30,000 votes – that means the men and women right here can control the outcome in the state of Missouri.”

Sanders made the same case to his rally attendees, some of whom camped out all night to make it into the Affton High School gym.

“If there is a large voter turnout, we’ll win,” he said. “Let’s create a large voter turnout.”

For his part, Trump guaranteed the attendees at Peabody Opera House that no other candidate or rally would be as entertaining.

“Isn’t this more exciting than listening to a long boring speech?” Trump said. “You can get that from the other candidates.”