- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Republicans Donald Trump and Ted Cruz campaigned in Mississippi ahead of the state’s Tuesday presidential primaries, but with many more delegates at stake in Michigan, other campaigns were focused elsewhere.

Trump spoke Monday evening to several thousand people in the northern Jackson suburb of Madison - his second appearance in Mississippi since early January, when a similarly large crowd turned out for his rally in Biloxi. After the gymnasium at Madison Central High School filled up, people sat in the football stadium and watched his speech as it was shown on the scoreboard.

“We have to fix our country. We have to get rid of our debt. We have to, at a minimum, get the debt way down,” Trump said. “We have to balance our budgets. We have to build up our military.”

On short notice, Cruz announced a Monday afternoon appearance in a southern Jackson suburb, Florence, at a catfish restaurant with a 110-foot cross in the parking lot. He originally had been set to appear in Ellisville, but organizers said he wouldn’t be there because he wasn’t feeling well.

Cruz acknowledged in Florence that he was under the weather, but said he wanted to speak to Mississippi supporters, including state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who lost a Republican primary runoff in 2014 to longtime U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in a race that sharply divided the tea party faction backing McDaniel and the GOP establishment, which boosted Cochran by reaching out to black voters who traditionally support Democrats.

Standing on a table and speaking to more than 200 people packed into a room with “Andy Griffith Show” wallpaper, Cruz took a swipe at Trump’s campaign slogan.

“Now, it is easy to talk about making America great again. You can even print that on a baseball cap,” Cruz said. “But the real question is, do you understand the principles and values that made America great in the first place?”

Cruz won rowdy applause by saying he will protect gun owners’ rights, eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and nominate strict constitutionalists to the Supreme Court. Some also responded with “Amen!” as he said the U.S. will stand unequivocally with Israel if he is president.

Republican John Kasich has spoken in Mississippi twice in the past month, but Marco Rubio has not personally campaigned in the state.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also skipped Mississippi, but former President Bill Clinton campaigned for his wife last week in Jackson.

Mississippi will award 40 Republican and 41 Democratic delegates on Tuesday, but Michigan awards 59 Republican and 147 Democratic delegates the same day.

“They can only campaign in so many places,” said Marvin King, a University of Mississippi political science professor. “It’s not our politics or our policies or our politicians. … We only have 3 million (residents) and Michigan has 10.”

King said he expects Mississippi’s primary results to be similar to those in neighboring Louisiana, where Clinton and Trump won on Saturday.

Mississippi Republican Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday endorsed Cruz, although Bryant did not appear at the campaign event in Florence.

“It’s time for Republicans to join together and unite the party for the good of our state and our nation,” Bryant said in a news release from the Cruz campaign. “I urge my fellow Mississippians to join me in standing behind Ted Cruz.”

Kasich was endorsed by five newspapers, including the largest in the state, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson.

The presidential race split the family of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi NAACP leader and voting-rights advocate assassinated in 1963. His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, endorsed Clinton and his brother, longtime Republican Charles Evers, endorsed Trump.

Kasich is backed by Republican U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, while Clinton is backed by Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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