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Republican consultant expects Cruz to do well in North Georgia
Polls open today for presidential primary
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Georgia residents hope to influence both parties' presidential races on Super Tuesday, with one of the largest delegate totals up for grabs among the 12 states that will vote on the key day in the election season.

Georgia's deep-red status and pool of delegates drew last-minute visits from multiple Republican candidates as time before the primary got short. Democrats, meanwhile, know the state's large minority population makes black voters essential to winning a party primary in Georgia.

Recent polling in the state shows Donald Trump leading the Republican race and Hillary Clinton with a double-digit lead on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who championed the effort to set the March 1 primary date in Georgia and across the South, said the change gives Georgians a chance to affect both parties' presidential nominees. Republican voters include a wide variety of people, from evangelicals to those focused solely on economic issues, he said.

"It's got something for everybody," Kemp said.

Eric Tanenblatt, a Republican consultant who hasn't committed to a campaign since Jeb Bush's exit, said the state tends to break down by region in GOP primaries and ensure delegates are awarded proportionally rather than all going to the popular vote winner.

He expects Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to do well in rural parts of the state, including north Georgia, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich will battle for support in metro Atlanta and along the coast.

"I think you're going to see that kind of division across the South, and Tuesday's primary won't clarify much," Tanenblatt said.

A clear second-place victor could make a strong argument that he is the only alternative to Trump, said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University. If Rubio distances himself from Cruz, or vice versa, the winning senator will try to win over the other's supporters, she said.

"The question then becomes whether a Cruz voter is comfortable voting for Rubio or would prefer Trump," she added.

Rubio and Cruz held separate rallies Saturday in metro Atlanta; Rubio returned Monday. Trump also spoke to supporters in south Georgia on Monday night. Kasich visited the state earlier this month, holding two overflow town halls north of Atlanta.

The Democratic race, like almost every party primary here, hinges on black voters' support.

Clinton rallied supporters Friday at Atlanta City Hall, promising to return to help turn the red state to blue.

"Georgia looks like America," said Tharon Johnson, a Democratic campaign strategist who is supporting Clinton. "We have a prominent and active African-American voting community that both candidates have spent a lot of time galvanizing. Ultimately, Hillary Clinton will win because of her long, proven history of standing up for our issues."

Sanders spoke before thousands in mid-February at Atlanta's Morehouse College, a historically black school.

State Sen. Vincent Fort, Sanders' top surrogate in Georgia, said he believes Sanders can exceed expectations in Georgia. Sanders has narrowed polling gaps late in other states and could gain momentum heading into other Southern states with a strong performance Tuesday, Fort said.

"This is not a year for the status quo, and Hillary Clinton is the status quo," Fort said.

Gillespie said Georgia and other Southern states will test whether Sanders can peel away enough support from young black voters to challenge Clinton's expected strength among African-Americans.

"The African-American vote is what drives election results in these primaries and these are delegate-rich states," she said.

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