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Clinton, Donald Trump win in state's primaries.

Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in her adopted home state of Arkansas Tuesday, while billionaire Donald Trump claimed the Republican vote despite the state's top GOP leaders lining up behind his rivals.

Clinton, the former secretary of state, defeated U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the state where she served 12 years as first lady. Trump prevailed over Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, who were in a close race for second.

Election officials reported strong turnout, despite rain that fell in much of central Arkansas during the opening hours of balloting. Early voting was double what Arkansas saw in the 2012 presidential election, with nearly 200,000 voters casting a ballot before Tuesday's election.

Secretary of State Mark Martin predicted 22 percent of the state's nearly 1.7 million registered voters would cast ballots in the primary. Lawmakers last year moved up the state's primary from May, part of an effort to create a regional nominating contest among southeastern states that supporters dubbed the "SEC primary."

The hunt for Republican votes picked up after former Gov. Mike Huckabee dropped out of the race last month. Rubio had the endorsement of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and other top officials in the state, while Cruz had the backing of 18 state legislators and the secretary of state.

Clinton had the backing of the state's most prominent Democrats, including its five superdelegates.

State Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said he believed Arkansas could be back in play in November if Clinton faced Trump in the general election. Arkansas hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1996.

"I think the advantage becomes even more promising if they nominate someone who wants to build walls instead of tearing down barriers," Insalaco, who had endorsed Clinton, said of Trump's provocative campaign comments including his call for a wall along the Mexico border.

Becky Seadon, 65, of Fayetteville said she is an independent and voted for Clinton. "The Republican Party has certainly changed, and I'm not going to vote for those idiots that promote hate," Seadon said.

Kim Fendley, 53, a small-business owner, said in North Little Rock that she cast her ballot for Trump. She said she isn't bothered by his incendiary comments and believed he could win in the fall if he's nominated. "The thing I like about him is he's not afraid to speak what's on his mind," she said.

The election included heated nonpartisan races for the state Supreme Court, with a chief justice campaign that has been overwhelmed with record spending by outside groups. Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman defeated North Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman in the Republican primary. In central Arkansas' 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Rep. French Hill also defeated a longshot GOP primary challenger.

Boozman said he'd support Trump if he wins the nomination, and said he wasn't concerned about being linked to the billionaire's offensive comments in the general election. He took a swipe at Democratic challenger Conner Eldridge's background as a federal prosecutor appointed by President Barack Obama "My record speaks for itself," Boozman said. "I would have more concern about [Eldridge] being a presidential appointee of President Obama."

Eldridge kicked off the general election campaign by challenging Boozman to a series of debates and town halls around Arkansas. "It's disappointing he doesn't seem to understand what a prosecutor does," Eldridge said. "I hope that issue is front and center in this campaign."

--The Associated Press

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Title Annotation:Politics
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Mar 7, 2016
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