Candidates focused on AZ ahead of primary

Posted at 5:12 PM, Mar 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-17 20:35:38-04

Presidential candidates are focused on Arizona as the state's primary looms, with four of the five remaining Democratic and Republican hopefuls planning visits to the state in advance of Tuesday's election.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders plan campaign stops as they try to win the Democratic nomination. Sanders appears Thursday near Flagstaff and plans Tucson and metro Phoenix events Friday. He held a campaign rally Tuesday night in Phoenix without mentioning a string of losses that night in primaries that saw Clinton's delegate lead grown.

Clinton plans a visit to Phoenix on Monday.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is holding a rally at a Phoenix Christian college Friday, and GOP businessman Donald Trump plans a Saturday morning rally in the upscale Phoenix suburb of Fountain Hills. Republican Gov. John Kasich of Ohio hasn't announced Arizona visits.

Television viewers are getting a taste of the campaign as Clinton and Sanders run ads focusing on key demographics they hope will support them -- Clinton an ad featuring a young girl worried her immigrant parents will be deported, and Sanders running ads promising free college education, stronger Social Security financing and universal health care. Sanders' campaign announced three new ads featuring Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva on Thursday. Cruz is also running ads in the state.

Sanders faces an uphill battle nationally as Clinton is more than two-thirds of the way to grabbing the 2,383 delegates she needs to clinch the nomination. She has strong backing from a large number of Democratic elected officials in the state and a majority of the superdelegates. Arizona has 85 Democratic delegates at stake Tuesday.

Still, Sanders' campaign is pushing hard to gain voter support in Arizona and the other states holding Democratic caucuses on Tuesday, Idaho and Utah.

"The reason that people are coming out in large numbers to rallies for Bernie like they did in Phoenix the other night and like we expect to see all around the state in the next couple of days is not because some establishment type has told them how they should vote," Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs said Thursday. "It's because they are drawn to his ideas about how to fix the rigged economy and the corrupt campaign finance system that props it up."

On the Republican side, Trump has a lead in delegates but still needs to win a majority of the remaining delegates to get to the 1,237 he needs to avoid a convention fight. Cruz is well behind, and an Associated Press analysis shows he can't get enough delegates to win outright. He and Kasich are angling to keep Trump from securing the nomination outright. Arizona has 58 GOP delegates available in the primary Tuesday, when Utah also holds its caucus.

Trump drew huge crowds at events in Phoenix last July and in suburban Mesa in December, capitalizing on GOP voters' concerns about immigration in a border state that has been on the front lines of the battle over immigration reform. The state's two U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, sharply criticized his stance before the July event.

Cruz hasn't held major campaign rallies in the Republican-leaning state but has support from conservatives. State House Speaker David Gowan, who is running for Congress, is traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border with Cruz at midday Friday.

On Wednesday, he picked up an endorsement from U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, a Republican who represents Arizona's 6th Congressional District.

"It's clear that Ted is the conservative leader that we need as our next president, and my wife Joyce and I are proud to give him our strongest endorsement," Schweikert said in his endorsement message. "In the upcoming Arizona presidential preference primary, Ted is the clear choice for voters who want a conservative president who is truly committed to fixing the mess in Washington."