U.S. Republican presidential candidates are headed to two more contentious state nominating contests on Tuesday, with the front-runner, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, and his nearest challenger, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, likely to split the contests.
A massive number of votes have already been cast in early voting in the western state of Arizona, likely giving Trump an edge, since the Republican ballots were printed awhile ago and also list the names of candidates who have since dropped out of the party's presidential campaign.
Cruz is claiming that he is the only candidate who has a chance to overtake Trump, but with other names on the party primary election ballot, Trump could only win a plurality and still collect all 58 delegates to the Republican national convention, where the party will formally select its 2016 nominee.
Meanwhile, political surveys show Cruz, a conservative firebrand in the halls of Congress, likely to win party caucuses in Utah, another Western state. But if he does, his margin over Trump will prove crucial, with all 40 convention delegates going to the winner, if he gets more than 50 percent of the vote, while the convention delegates would be apportioned according to the vote count if no candidate gets a majority.
The third candidate remaining in the Republican race, Ohio Governor John Kasich, is not expected to factor in the outcome in either state.
Both Trump and Cruz appealed to voters Saturday with tough promises to deal with illegal immigration into the United States.
Trump appeared at rallies in Arizona, one the of the focal points of the contentious U.S. debate over illegal immigration from across the border with Mexico. Trump, who has vowed to build an impenetrable wall along the border, declared, "Illegal immigration is gonna stop. It's dangerous. Terrible."
Cruz, in Utah, pledged to block a number of U.S. cities from declaring themselves as "sanctuary cities," where officials try to protect illegal migrants from being arrested and deported.
Kasich, running a distant third in the race for the Republican presidential contest, told one interviewer Sunday that Trump's call to deport 11 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S. is impractical and "a promise that will never happen."
The two Democratic presidential candidates, the leader, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and her sole challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, also are squaring off in Arizona and Utah on Tuesday, as well as in caucuses in a third western state, Idaho.
Sanders visited a U.S.-Mexican border outpost on Saturday, promising to take more steps to keep immigrants from being deported. He denounced the "divisive, bigoted and xenophobic comments of people like Donald Trump."
Clinton, with a substantial lead over Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination, is planning Arizona rallies for Monday. She also has attacked Trump for his immigration views.