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Super Tuesday: Polls open in the South and New England on a fateful day

The day before, presidential hopefuls made frantic sprints across the country in anticipation of a massive day of voting across nearly a dozen states.

In Massachusetts and Minnesota, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont continued to draw the mega-rallies of enthusiastic supporters that have become the hallmark of his campaign. Republican Ted Cruz pleaded with voters in his home state of Texas for their support — banking on a primary victory here to jump-start his sputtering candidacy and stop Trump’s march as the runaway leader for the nomination.

While voting results could give Trump a critical boost against his closest rivals, Cruz and Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla., a well-funded super PAC is ramping up its effort to discredit the New York businessman with a devastating new television advertisement that portrays him as a predatory huckster who scammed working- and middle-class Americans.

A 60-second ad, which will begin airing Wednesday on stations across the country at the cost of more than $1 million, centers on Trump University, the billionaire mogul’s for-profit enterprise that promised to teach students the tricks of the real estate trade and is now defunct and the subject of a fraud suit.

The ad, titled “Scam,” is the latest component of the stop-Trump campaign of Our Principles PAC, a conservative group funded in part by Marlene Ricketts, a major Republican donor and the wife of TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts.

The attack echoes themes that Rubio, who is trying to unite the GOP’s anti-Trump forces under his own banner, has made as he has addressed swelling crowds in suburban areas.

Both visibly fatigued from weeks of breakneck travel, Cruz and Rubio campaigned for Super Tuesday as if they were cramming for an exam. The senators volleyed stinging character attacks at Trump, one after another, in a desperate move to halt the billionaire mogul’s momentum.

But if the polls and roaring crowds that greeted Trump in Virginia and Georgia on Monday were any indication, he is steamrolling toward a triumphant showing Tuesday. Republican primaries or caucuses will take place in 11 states — seven across the South, as well as Alaska, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Vermont — and the only one Trump is not expected to win is Texas, where Cruz appears to be the favorite.

“You don’t get to abuse our immigration laws and take advantage of American workers, and suddenly call yourself a champion of working men and women,” Cruz said. He added later: “If you don’t want to see Donald Trump as the nominee, if you don’t want to see Hillary Clinton as the next president, then stand with us, tomorrow, on Super Tuesday.”

At a rowdy rally at Radford University in Virginia, Trump sold himself as the polling front-runner and as a more effective leader than either of the freshman senators. He repeatedly referred to them by demeaning nicknames — “Lying Ted Cruz” and “Little Marco Rubio” — and mocked the latter for his frequent sweating and sipping of water.

Protesters interrupted the rally at several points, drawing swift rebukes from Trump, who asked one woman if she was Mexican after a commotion. After a disruption by black attendees, who chanted slogans including “Black lives matter,” Trump shouted, “All lives matter.” The crowd cheered its approval of the candidate.

See also: US expats in Costa Rica can vote in person for presidential primary

On the Democratic side, Clinton was widely expected to sweep six southern states, including Virginia, where her longtime friend Terry McAuliffe is the sitting governor. Clinton’s trouncing of Sanders in South Carolina on Saturday, by nearly 50 percentage points, revealed an overwhelming advantage among African American voters that should play out in the minority-heavy South on Tuesday. Less clear is whether her winning streak will dampen Sanders’ previous advantage among the five other states at stake – Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Massachusetts and Sanders’ home state of Vermont.

Although Clinton is still waging a hard-fought nomination battle against Sanders, she also began pivoting this week to her likely general-election opponent, Trump.

On Monday, Clinton lingered on what she called “scapegoating” and “finger-pointing” in the Republican race — clearly signaling her willingness to criticize Trump.

“The mean-spiritedness, the hateful rhetoric, the insults — that’s not who we are,” Clinton said in Springfield, Mass., a day ahead of the Super Tuesday voting that is expected to place her firmly in the lead for the Democratic nomination. “It really undermines our fabric as a nation.”

Sanders, meanwhile, speaking to reporters beside his chartered jet in Boston Monday, vowed to stay in the race until voters in all 50 states have spoken. He also took a jab at Clinton for the “substantial sums” a super PAC supporting her has collected from corporate interests.

“Tomorrow, all over the country our campaign is taking on the political establishment,” the senator from Vermont said. “We’re taking on governors and senators and mayors who know how to get out the vote. They do that very well.”

Sanders’ wife Jane, speaking to reporters at the back of his campaign plane Monday night as it approached Burlington, Vt., said “time is on our side now” as a growing number of voters hear the senator’s message.

“The more they listen to his message, the more they know him, they more support him as a person and him as a candidate to be president,” she said, adding he had no intention of dropping out of the race. “If you’ve gone to the rallies with us, you’ve seen the hope and the expectation, the fervor and the support for the ideas. Bernie’s not going to let those people down.”

More delegates are up for grabs Tuesday than on any other single day in the Democratic nominating calendar.

Back on the Republican side, Trump tried to signal that he was looking toward the general election, arguing that the early primary results show there is greater voter enthusiasm for him than for Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“There is enthusiasm,” Trump said of his campaign. “Big, big, big enthusiasm.”

Advisers to Rubio and Cruz hoped for a clarifying verdict Tuesday that would winnow the nominating contest to two men: Trump and one of them.

But both camps saw signs of trouble. Cruz has continued to find it difficult to unite a conservative coalition of evangelicals and self-described liberty voters. Kris Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas and a high-profile opponent of illegal immigration, announced Monday that he was endorsing Trump, joining two fellow immigration crusaders, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Ala., and former Arizona governor Jan Brewer, on the Trump bandwagon.

The Washington Post’s John Wagner reported from Minnesota and Massachusetts. Abby Phillip in Massachusetts and Virginia; Anne Gearan and Paul Kane in Washington; Robert Costa in Atlanta; Jose A. DelReal in Nashville; Fenit Nirappil in Radford, Va.; Ed O’Keefe in Alcoa, Tenn.; and David Weigel in Castleton, Vt., contributed to this report.

© 2016, The Washington Post

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