Bristol County, Mass., goes big for Trump

Clinton ekes out narrow win as her vote margins shrink compared with 2008

AP Photo/Matt Rourke/Bryan R. Smith

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) – It’s official: there is “yuge” support for Donald Trump in Bristol County.

The Republican frontrunner won a smashing victory across Massachusetts in the GOP presidential primary on Tuesday, grabbing nearly 50% of the vote and receiving almost 300,000 votes – more than native son Mitt Romney earned in either the 2008 or 2012 nominating contests.

And no part of the state delivered a bigger landslide for Trump than Bristol County, a ring of four cities and 16 towns that hugs the Rhode Island border and is mostly represented by Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy III.

Trump took 55% of the vote in Bristol County, a higher share of support than he received in any other region of Massachusetts. He trounced Marco Rubio, who came second there with 16%, as well as John Kasich (13%) and Ted Cruz (10%).

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Trump won every city and town in Bristol County. In its largest city, New Bedford, he got 58% of the vote. He received even more (62%) in its second-largest city, Fall River. He also took 59% in the city of Taunton and 50% in the city of Attleboro.

An exit poll of 801 Massachusetts Republican primary voters showed basically no difference in backing for Trump between self-identified Republicans and self-identified independents, with the two groups giving Trump 51% and 50% support, respectively.

The story was very different on the Democratic side, where Hillary Clinton barely pulled out a squeaker of a win over Bernie Sanders in Bristol County. Clinton received 49.4% of the vote and Sanders received 49.0%, with barely more than 300 votes separating them.

While Sanders won a sizable number of Bristol County communities, Clinton was saved by her victories in the vote-rich cities of New Bedford (54% for Clinton), Fall River (57% for Clinton) and Taunton (50% for Clinton). Sanders did win the county’s fourth and smallest city, Attleboro, with 54% of the vote.

Still, the results marked a major erosion of support for Clinton compared with 2008, when she easily defeated Barack Obama across Massachusetts and took 69% of the vote in Bristol County, making it her best county that year. Not this time.

On Tuesday Clinton’s total number of votes in the county slid by nearly half compared with 2008, from 63,000 to 37,000, while Sanders received almost 10,000 more votes than Obama did there. Her percentage of the vote in the big cities fell by double-digits.

The narrowness of Clinton’s win statewide and in Bristol County will likely be seen as vindicating her campaign’s last-minute decision to send former President Bill Clinton for a midday swing through Taunton and New Bedford on Tuesday to drum up support for his wife.

At roughly 46,000, voter turnout in the Republican primary in Bristol County was notably higher than in 2012 (25,000) or 2008 (32,000). On the Democratic side, however, turnout declined from about 90,000 in 2008 to 74,000 in 2016.

Rhode Island’s presidential primary is April 26.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes The Saturday Morning Post. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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