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Presidential primary poised for Tuesday

Staff report

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LaGRANGE — Today is leap day, which means voters have one extra day to decide who they’ll cast their ballots for in Tuesday’s presidential primary election.

Polling stations will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for voting in either the Republican or Democratic presidential primary.

Anyone wanting to check their voter registration status or see a sample ballot may visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov or visit the Troup County Board of Elections and Registration office at the Troup County Government Center, 100 Ridley Ave. Voters can also use the website to determine where their polling station is.

On the Republican presidential primary ballot are Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, John R. Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Donald J. Trump.

On the Democratic presidential primary ballot are Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Michael Steinberg.

Only presidential candidates will be on this primary ballot. Primaries for local and statewide offices, including Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District, are May 24 and qualifying for those races is open March 7 through 11.

Already, 2,220 people have voted in in-person early voting, which ended Feb. 26, according to the county’s elections office. That tally does not include mail-in absentee ballots, which have until Tuesday to be delivered to the county’s elections office.

Republican presidential candidates are fighting for support from a mostly white electorate, including many voters who feel alienated by broad economic and cultural changes, according to the Associated Press. Democrats will depend on growing minority populations and voters clustered in heavily populated urban areas.

In the upcoming Southern primaries, that means Hillary Clinton could sweep the region, but with Democratic electorates that have much larger proportions of African-Americans than those that propelled her husband’s successful 1992 presidential campaign.

The changes have given Republican Donald Trump, hardly a conservative by traditional definitions, an unexpected foothold with voters who feel emboldened in the South and left behind by their party’s leaders in Washington.

Trump has campaigned through the South with a rallying cry that long has resonated in the region.

Exit polls from last week’s Republican primary in South Carolina — the first Southern state to vote in the 2016 contest — showed that Trump can draw votes from the evangelical Christians and social conservatives who are the cornerstone of the GOP electorate in the region.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee, all states that vote on Tuesday, evangelicals make up about 40 percent or more of the population, according to the Pew Research Center. Texas, which also votes Tuesday, lags slightly behind with about 31 percent evangelicals.

Unlike Trump, Hillary Clinton’s ties to the South run deep. She spent 12 years as the first lady of Arkansas and was active in the state during her husband’s tenures as governor.

But the political shifts across the region have dramatically remade the Democratic electorate she faces on Super Tuesday.

When Bill Clinton was on the ballot in the 1992 Democratic primaries, the electorate in Georgia was 70 percent white and 29 percent black. In Alabama that same year, the Democratic primary electorate was 76 percent white and 23 percent black.

By 2008, exit poll data from Democratic primaries showed a dramatic shift of whites away from the party in Southern states. In Georgia, 42 percent of voters were white and 52 percent black. In Alabama, it was 44 percent white and 51 percent black.

While the 2016 general election will be dismal for Democrats in the South, party leaders see reasons to hope the region can at least become competitive in the near future.

A majority of black Americans now live in the South, reversing a decades-long trend of migration to the north, and the Hispanic population is in the region is also booming, creating a potential demographics advantage for Democrats.

The party has seen signs of progress in states like Virginia and North Carolina. As Democrats eye presidential elections in the coming years, they are particularly eager to see states like Georgia and Texas become more competitive.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach LaGrange Daily News at 706-884-7311.