- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Connecticut, claiming a narrow victory Tuesday over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in a state where she campaigned on pledges to address gun violence.

Donald Trump easily won the GOP primary in a state where he drew thousands of enthusiastic voters to three boisterous rallies, in Hartford, Waterbury and Bridgeport, even though top state Republicans backed his rival Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state, had the support of top elected Democrats, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and members of the state’s congressional delegation. She evoked the 2012 Newtown school shootings in appearances and television ads, including one featuring an endorsement by a daughter of the slain Sandy Hook Elementary School principal.

On the gun issue, about 3 out of 5 voters favored Clinton, according to preliminary exit poll results. Clinton has proposed comprehensive federal background check requirements, including for gun show and Internet sales, and repealing certain immunity protections for the gun industry, among other provisions. In Newtown, where the Sandy Hook rampage occurred, Clinton won 53 percent of the vote while Sanders won 45 percent.

Also, about 3 out of 5 Democratic voters said Clinton is the candidate better suited to beat Trump in the November election.

Rita Pulliam, a 62-year-old personal care assistant from Willimantic and recovering drug addict, said she’s also very concerned about recent state cuts, including to drug treatment programs, and believes Clinton could help restore funding as president.

“I feel Hillary is more connected to the common people, like myself,” she said.

Connecticut Democrats immediately pounced on Trump’s victory, saying his “divisive message” is now part of the mainstream state GOP.

Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were vying for 25 of the state’s 28 delegates, which will be distributed proportionally. The remaining three votes will be cast by J.R. Romano, chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, and the state GOP’s national committeeman and national committeewoman.

“Donald Trump’s resounding victory in today’s primary is surprising to no one, but it is yet another reminder of just how extreme Connecticut’s Republican Party has become,” said Chairman Nick Balletto.

Gale Whalley, a 66-year-old retiree from Bozrah, said she wants to see Trump in the White House.

“I think he’s what we want in a president,” she said. “He’s bold and he’s not afraid to stand up for this country. He’s not afraid to say what he wants.”

Exit polling showed four in 10 Trump voters said they support him because he “tells it like it is,” while more than three in 10 said they support him because they believe he can bring “needed change.”

The state reported a surge in voter registrations ahead of the primary. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said 93,000 new voters have registered since Jan. 1, a development that may have helped boost voter turnout.

“Certainly, in some areas of the state, it seems very high,” Merrill said.

There were scattered reports of problems at the polls, including towns that ran out of ballots and problematic voting machines.

For the Democratic candidates, 55 of the state’s 71 delegates will be up for grabs. The delegates will be distributed mostly on a proportional basis.

Clinton lost Connecticut in the 2008 Democratic primary to then-Sen. Barack Obama by four percentage points.

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Associated Press writers Pat Eaton-Robb in Willimantic and Dave Collins in Glastonbury contributed to this report.

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