- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Voters in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Maryland are casting primary ballots for presidential candidates in contests pivotal for Republicans and Democrats alike. Democrats are choosing between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, while Republicans are deciding among Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Donald Trump.

Here are some voters’ thoughts:

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Gerson Mendoza, a 23-year-old native of Venezuela, cast his first ballot as an American citizen for Bernie Sanders.

The owner of a cleaning business, Mendoza graduated from the University of Connecticut a year ago with $40,000 in debt. He said he was attracted to Sanders’ pledge to make higher education more affordable.

“College was particularly expensive for me, more than anyone should have to pay just for an education,” he said after voting in East Hartford, Connecticut. “But I couldn’t picture myself without going to college. If he could make that easier for future generations, that would be great.”

Mendoza, who came to the U.S. at age 14 and achieved citizenship a few months ago, said he believed Hillary Clinton would probably be a good president but was too incremental in her approach.

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Karin Bryan voted for Ted Cruz because she believes he has campaigned in a more presidential manner.

Bryan, 73, a homemaker in Annapolis, Maryland, described herself as a staunch conservative who had a tough time deciding.

“I think that Trump albeit he says some good things, I think he’s a bit of a loose cannon,” Bryan said.

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Yvonne Hunt had a hard time deciding because she liked both Sanders and Clinton so much.

“I wish they could be co-presidents,” said Hunt, 40, who works at the National Institutes of Health.

Hunt’s entire family was divided in the Democratic race: one of 10 siblings, she said half are voting for Sanders and half for Clinton.

Ultimately, she voted in Silver Spring, Maryland, for Clinton, citing her foreign policy experience.

“I just feel like it’s Hillary’s time, she said.

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Sig Ruskaup, 72, a registered Republican from Warwick, Rhode Island, said the GOP race began with a large cadre of qualified people but Trump stood out to her because he wasn’t a career politician.

“I felt things would be different with him,” she said. “He has hardworking children and grandchildren and he wants to make America great again for the country and his family.”

Ruskaup, who said she owns several properties, was impressed with Trump’s work ethic and negotiating skills as a businessman. She sounded resentful of those within the Republican party trying to derail Trump before the convention.

“Everyone is working against him. They’re part of the big boys club and they want to keep things the way they are, like Kasich and Cruz working together,” she said. “I think we need a real leader.”

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Laura Seyler calls Donald Trump a bully.

That’s why she voted for him.

“I’m a very solid Cruz fan, and I think Cruz would do an excellent job. But I think Trump is a bigger bully,” Seyler, 63, a senior buyer for a direct marketer, said Tuesday at a polling place in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. “That may sound strange, but I think that’s kind of what we need.”

Seyler, a Republican, said the country is going in the wrong direction - away from constitutional principles and toward socialism - and Trump will lead a restoration.

“I believe Trump will take the bat and straighten things out. I don’t think he’s afraid, he doesn’t owe anybody anything, and I think he’s very much an American that loves his country, and he sees Americans suffering,” she said.

“He’s not perfect. He has flaws. But who is? We could go through every list of politician and pick him apart, but I think he’s pulling the people together, and that says a lot,” she added.

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Loretta Becker, a pharmaceutical sales representative, said she generally doesn’t vote in primaries but came out Tuesday to cast her ballot for Clinton because she considers her the most qualified candidate and is worried about a potential Trump presidency.

“He slurs, his negativity, his racism, the comments that he makes about different ethnic groups I just find it appalling,” Becker said after voting in Warwick, Rhode Island.

A former social worker and onetime Vermont resident, Becker indicated she also liked Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, but Clinton was her first choice.

Why Clinton?

“The fact that I really loved having Obama for president and now having Hillary as a president, feeling like she’ll do a great job and knowing that she’s the best candidate and wanting to vote for her and support her,” Becker said.

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Jon Passauer works two jobs, at a coffee shop in the morning and at a bike shop in the afternoon.

On Tuesday, he biked to a polling place in Pittsburgh to vote for Sanders.

A registered Republican until this year, Passauer, 29, voted Republican in the last two presidential elections but switched his registration to Democrat to vote for Sanders.

“I really like Bernie’s message,” he said. “What he’s got going for him is some fresh ideas.”

Passauer said a key issue for him was the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. He said he would like to see nonviolent criminals not locked up as frequently, or for as long.

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Retired physical education teacher George Reid, 73, of Hagerstown, Maryland, said he voted for Kasich because “he’s a moderate versus the other two extremes, Trump and Cruz.”

“I think we need somebody who’s kind of willing to compromise. I’m not sure those other two guys are,” Reid said.

He said he wants a president who can persuade recalcitrant lawmakers on the left and right to work together on issues including the economic divide.

“You see these people getting bonuses of $430 million, $500 million. That’s ridiculous when you see someone else who’s working his tail off who’s making nothing, just trying to make ends meet,” Reid said.

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Ryan Shiring voted in his first presidential primary on Tuesday, casting a ballot in Glastonbury, Connecticut, for Trump.

“I just feel as a young Republican he appeals to us,” said Shiring, 20, an engineering major at the University of Connecticut. “He is anti-establishment, and that’s something I gravitate toward. … It’s my first time voting. I felt it was important to come out. I wanted to feel like my vote counted, and I feel like it definitely did.”

Shiring said he agrees with Trump’s immigration policy, and he admires Trump for speaking his mind and taking on the Republican establishment.

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Associated Press writers Michael Rubinkam in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, Rodrique Ngowi and Jennifer McDermott in Warwick, Rhode Island, Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh, Dave Collins in Glastonbury, Connecticut, Michael Melia in East Hartford, Connecticut, Matthew Barakat in Hyattsville, Maryland, Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, and David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Maryland contributed to this report.

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