- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama residents were casting ballots to name their picks for president as part of the southern-flavored Super Tuesday primary contests.

Alabama is one of 12 states holding primary contests Tuesday in the biggest single-day delegate haul of the nomination contests. Republican candidates - including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio - campaigned through the deeply red state over the weekend while Hillary Clinton looked to extend her dominance with African-American voters ahead of the Democratic primary.

“The big ticket item is what the 1-2-3 is in the presidential race. My guess is it’s Trump, Rubio and Cruz,” said Natalie Davis, a political scientist at Birmingham-Southern College.

Trump is expected to perform well in southern states, Davis said, but Cruz and Rubio have been attempting to cut into his lead.

Davis said Trump’s supporters see a vote for him as a vote against the status quo and things they don’t like such as, “unfettered immigration, maybe some attitudes toward Muslims.”

“He represents really what a lot of folks in this state think,” Davis said.

As Trump’s political star grows so do the divisions within the GOP over his ascendency, a difference of opinion that was seen among high-ranking Republicans in Alabama.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, responding to a question Monday about the presidential race, said Trump had shown, “disrespect and disregard for women, for minorities, for people who have disabilities.”

Bentley also condemned Trump’s initial refusal to disavow support from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke as Trump headed to a Sunday campaign stop in Alabama.

“Now, obviously he must have thought that David Duke and that type of person was OK with people in Alabama and the South. I want to tell you they are not OK with us. They’re not OK with me as governor,” Bentley said.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions endorsed Trump this weekend. “This election is our last chance to save U.S. sovereignty and to end the domination of the political establishment over the interests of working Americans,” Sessions said.

On the Democratic side, Clinton thunders into Super Tuesday coming off a momentous win in South Carolina fueled by support by African-American voters.

She is looking for a repeat performance in demographically similar southern states such as Alabama where black voters will dominate the Tuesday Democratic primary. In Alabama, nearly seven in 10 voters in recent Democratic presidential primaries have been African-American, said Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley.

Clinton took a side trip to Alabama on Saturday before her South Carolina victory party. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, also stumped on her behalf in Alabama.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders drew a crowd of more than 5,000 when he visited Birmingham earlier this year, but he has not visited the state in the days leading up to the primary.

Tuesday’s election will also be the first test of whether an anti-establishment mood across the country will have any effect on down-ballot races. While incumbents are heavily favored to win, several of the races will be closely watched.

Five-term Sen. Richard Shelby faces off with four lesser known challengers in the GOP primary, most notably Jonathan McConnell, a former Marine who now runs a ship security business putting former Marines on vessels.

Republican Rep. Martha Roby faces tea party challenger Becky Gerritson in the second congressional district that includes Montgomery and the Wiregrass.

One of the few statewide races on the ballot is the Republican primary for president of the Public Service Commission. The race pits incumbent Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh against former commission member Terry Dunn. Dunn and Cavanaugh clashed as members. Dunn sought formal hearings to review utility rates, and Cavanaugh opposed the idea.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, who championed the move to the early primary, is projecting a voter turnout of between 38 and 40 percent. He said that is a strong showing for a primary, just short of the 42 percent in 2008 when a swell of voters propelled Barack Obama to the White House.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Tuesday.

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