Voices from voters as they cast primary ballots in 5 states

Nathan Bailey, 16, a student election official at the Bernard School voting site, helps Virginia Hammack sign in for voting, Tuesday, March 15, in St. Louis, Mo. Voters in Missouri, as well as Illinois, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina are casting their ballots in primary elections Tuesday. (Cristina M. Fletes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Voters in five states made their choices Tuesday in party primaries. Florida and Ohio were the big prizes sought by front-runners Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as they aimed to prevent rivals from narrowing the delegate gap. Voters also cast ballots in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina.

Here’s a look at what some voters had to say:

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When deciding which candidate to vote for, Eduardo De Jesus treated it like a job interview. He evaluated which candidate would continue the changes started by President Barack Obama and which candidate would take the nation “to the next step.” On Tuesday, he made his choice at a polling station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is the only candidate who can work with Congress to get things done, he said.

“Hillary Clinton. She is the best prepared. She has done it,” said De Jesus, a 56-year-old Navy veteran who currently is director of operations for a medical insurance company. “She has been there. She is the person that should replace Barack Obama.”

Trump has been disrespectful to the election process, De Jesus said.

“My hope is that America can wake up and say, ‘This is our process for democracy.’ And this will come to pass,” he said.

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James Cantrell, a Republican from Columbus, Ohio, said he voted for Ted Cruz because the Texas senator is “the best constitutional conservative of the bunch” and the one who adhered to his views on taxes and illegal immigration.

“I can’t stand (Florida Sen. Marco) Rubio, he’s pro-immigrant. (Ohio Gov. John) Kasich has no backbone. He’s so spineless he won’t stand up to anything,” said Cantrell, 52, who runs his own water-well drilling company. “I don’t personally care for Trump. I would vote for him in the general election if that’s my only choice, but I would rather have Cruz.”

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Sheri Scott, a 44-year-old divorced mother of three children, voted for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at her precinct in Chicago because she said he seems more trustworthy than Clinton. That trustworthiness gives him a better chance than Clinton of winning against a Republican in the general election, she said.

“I believe he’s a genuine person with a good heart. I trust him,” said Scott, a customer service worker. “I don’t trust her as much. I will vote for her if she makes the nomination.”

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Ross Nichols, a 64-year-old retiree voting in Tallahassee, Florida, said he had planned on voting for Ben Carson until his wife persuaded him to switch over to Trump. Nichols joked that “Ben wouldn’t keep his eyes open” during the debates.

His wife, Elvira Nichols, is a naturalized citizen who moved to the United States from Colombia 18 years ago. Elvira Nichols, 60, said she did a lot of research and decided to back Trump. “I believe he’s a leader” and that he has shown it through his business accomplishments, she said.

Nichols said she feels that illegal immigrants get “free schools” and “free benefits” while “my husband has been struggling.”

“I think it’s not fair,” Nichols said.

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Albert Griggs voted for Clinton at a church on Chicago’s South Side. The 48-year-old mechanic who is married with two kids said he thinks Clinton has a better chance than Sanders if Trump is the eventual Republican nominee.

“Hillary is going to have the women behind her. Young voters will vote for her,” Griggs said.

Griggs also thinks Clinton’s husband, Bill, did a good job as president in the 1990s.

“She is his wife. I think she should follow suit. She is more down-to-earth, a people person,” Griggs said. “She’s not trying to pull the race card or start animosity among the people in the United States.”

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George Hairston, a 70-year-old retiree, said the Democratic Party needs some excitement, so he voted for Sanders, even though he expects Clinton will win the nomination.

“We need a certain amount of radicalism at this particular juncture in our history here in America,” Hairston said in front of a precinct in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Business as usual has pretty much produced the result that we have to deal with.”

The delegate-count math may not work out for Sanders, but “his message works for millions of people,” Hairston said.

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Cruz got 65-year-old Lois Saad’s vote, even though the Republican from Columbus, Ohio, couldn’t make up her mind between the Texas senator and Trump for the longest time. Her top priority was limiting the size and scope of government.

“Cruz has a proven record. I was on the fence, honestly, between Cruz and Trump. Reason is, Trump because he’s not a paid politician and the American people are leaning more toward they’re sick and tired of politicians,” said Saad, a quality manager for a logistics company. “But Ted Cruz has a proven record and in what he has done and what he has completed, he is a true conservative who walks the walk and talks the talk.”

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North Carolina State University student Elijah Morgan is not registered as a Democrat or Republican, but he voted for Rubio.

“I don’t love him as much as I’d like to. You know, like, if the bar for candidate that I’d like to vote for is up here, Rubio’s here and everybody else is much below that,” said the 21-year-old electrical engineering student in Raleigh, North Carolina. “So he’s not my picture-perfect candidate.”

Morgan said he’s hoping for a contested GOP convention this summer.

“I would prefer that outcome over Cruz or Trump,” he said. “I don’t really like Cruz. I think he’s dishonest. Smarmy, kind of … I think that (Trump) stands for everything I stand against.

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Tom and Cathy Lewis cast their votes for Kasich, who lives in their hometown of Westerville, Ohio. Beyond feeling a hometown connection to the Ohio governor, the couple said they were looking for a candidate with integrity and someone they can trust. Cathy Lewis said she likes that Kasich is “presenting the truth” about Donald Trump. Kasich has in recent days criticized Trump for creating a “toxic environment” in the Republican race.

“We need to have a man who will speak against things that are wrong,” she said.

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Sheila Green is a financial specialist at the College Foundation of North Carolina who works with students who want to go to college. She said she thinks Sanders is doing a disservice by leading students to believe they can attend for free. Green, 55, voted for Clinton at her polling station in Raleigh. She doesn’t think Sanders’ plan for free tuition would work or get through Congress.

“It’s not going to happen,” she said.

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Norman Hagan, an 87-year-old retiree from St. Charles, Missouri, voted for Trump. It was the first time he has voted for a Republican, and he has voted for Democrats dating to Harry Truman’s administration.

“I think the man is well qualified for the simple reason that he’s got a lot of money. Nobody’s pushing him,” Hagan said. “He’s well acquainted with different types of businesses. This country is a business, and I think he’d be well qualified to run it.”

Hagan said he has serious concerns about both Democratic candidates.

“Hillary in particular,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Alex Sanz in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Allen Breed in Raleigh, North Carolina; Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida; Terry Spencer in Plantation, Florida; Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina; Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Ashley Lisenby in Springfield, Illinois; Don Babwin in Chicago; Jim Salter in St. Charles, Missouri; and Summer Ballentine in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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