GOP candidates work Alabama

Six Republican presidential candidates are visiting Alabama over a 10-day period, jockeying for support amid a crowded field of contenders.

REUTERS/Mike Brantley
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with people as he exits after speaking at a rally held in Ladd-Peebles stadium in Mobile, Alabama August 21, 2015.

Alabama was once considered a flyover state for presidential hopefuls. That is no longer the case.

Six GOP presidential candidates are visiting Alabama over a 10-day period, as the crowded Republican field jockeys for support ahead of the next year's regional southern primary.

"They are coming to Alabama because we are the reddest state in the nation," Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan said. "They clearly understand Alabama is such a conservative state that they need to get boots on the ground here and get to know us and we need to get to know them," Lathan said.

Outspoken New York businessman Donald Trump brought his campaign down to the Deep South with a Friday night rally at a 40,000-seat football stadium in Mobile. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley the previous Monday endorsed Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will speak at the Alabama Republican Party's annual summer gathering in Talladega on Saturday.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has already made several stops in Alabama, will be the keynote speaker at the Tuscaloosa Republican Party's Lincoln-Reagan Dinner on Tuesday. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson will attend a reception in Pike Road. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has a meet-and-greet breakfast fundraiser in Birmingham on Wednesday.

"That's unparalleled in the history of the state," Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said of the interest.

Southern states have banded together to try to build a regional super primary. Nicknamed the "SEC Primary," the March 1 primary is a reference to the Southeastern Conference in college athletics. Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia for a Southern-flavored super Tuesday on March 1.

Lathan and Merrill said they thought the increased traffic was largely because of the earlier regional primary, putting the region that is a GOP stronghold in the forefront as candidates hunt for momentum.

The sheer size of the crowded field also means that candidates can't afford to take votes for granted as they try to stake a claim to the region.

Merrill has also said he has had conversations with former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and business leader Carly Fiorina to schedule tentative visits.

"They are all scratching and clawing to try to claim a toe hold," Alabama Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley said of the GOP field.

Democratic presidential hopefuls have so far been absent from the state which last was won by a Democrat with Jimmy Carter's election in 1976. Worley said she hopes that will change.

"We do know some are considering coming in," Worley said.

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