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White House race moves to Arizona, Utah and Idaho
[WASHINGTON] The race for the White House veered west Tuesday as voters in Arizona, Utah and Idaho make their picks in a narrowing presidential contest dominated by Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The voting gives the candidates another opportunity to pile up delegates on the way to the Republican and Democratic conventions, but is not expected to alter the basic outlines of the race.
The deadly attacks in Brussels changed the tone of voting day from the start, with Mr Trump and his main rival Ted Cruz seizing the moment to bash President Barack Obama's foreign policy - and tout their own tough stances of immigration.
Anyone who tries to attack the United States will "suffer greatly," Mr Trump said, in typically blunt tones that have shaped his populist run for the White House, propelling him from outsider to firm favorite for the Republican ticket.
"Belgium is a horror show right now. Terrible things are happening," he said. "We have to be very careful in the United States. We have to be very, very vigilant as to who we allow into this country."
At stake on Tuesday are 98 delegates in the Republican contests in Arizona and Utah, and 131 for Democrats who, unlike the Republicans, also caucus in Idaho.
At this point in the Republican race, Mr Trump's main objective is to amass the 1,237 delegates needed to win his party's nomination outright, and thwart a bid by the party establishment to stop him.
Going into Tuesday's contests, the billionaire real estate mogul had 683 delegates to 421 for his nearest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, according to a CNN tally. Ohio governor John Kasich has 145.
Pre-election polls show Mr Trump heavily favored to win in Arizona, the biggest prize with 58 delegates.
A border state, Arizona has long been roiled by passions over immigration, an issue that Mr Trump has seized on since launching his campaign with inflammatory accusations that Mexico was sending rapists and criminals across the border and promises to build a wall that he says he will force Mexico to fund.
Mr Trump touts endorsements from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a magnet of controversy for policing practices that target immigrants, and former governor Jan Brewer, who championed a state crackdown on undocumented migrants.
Anti-Trump protesters blocked a major road near Phoenix on Saturday and Trump supporters at a rally in Tucson kicked and punched a protester.
When images showed Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in the middle of the Tucson melee, appearing to collar a protester, Mr Trump defended him.
"I give him credit for having spirit," he said Sunday on ABC's This Week.
The dynamics are different in neighboring Utah, a predominantly Mormon state where pre-caucus polls show the ultra-conservative Cruz positioned to win.
Mr Cruz has been endorsed by Mitt Romney, the losing 2012 Republican candidate who has led the charge to stop Mr Trump. Utah is home turf for Mr Romney, a Mormon from a prominent family.
Analysts note that Mormons have voted consistently against Mr Trump elsewhere, and take a different view of immigration than other Republicans. The Church of Latter Day Saints has supported immigration reform and opposed deportations of otherwise law-abiding undocumented migrants.
The state's 40 Republican delegates are all up for grabs by any candidate who wins a majority in the state caucuses.
For Mr Cruz, the biggest obstacle in Utah may not be Mr Trump but Mr Kasich, who has refused entreaties from Mr Romney and others to stay out of the race to give Mr Cruz a clearer shot at taking all the delegates.
"I'm going to compete across the country and tell people who I am and let the chips fall where they may," Mr Kasich said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"And let me also tell you, no one, no one is going to that convention with enough delegates."
On the Democratic side, Mrs Clinton is dogged by an unyielding opponent in Bernie Sanders, whose well-funded grass-roots campaign is going strong despite a string of losses and the former secretary of state's growing pile of delegates - 1656 to his 877, including super-delegates, according to CNN.
To win the Democratic nomination, 2,383 delegates are needed.
Pre-election polls show the former first lady with a double-digit lead in Arizona going into Tuesday's voting, boosted by Hispanic support and a closed primary system that may not favor Sanders and his independent supporters.
Mrs Clinton campaigned in Arizona on Monday for the first time, but has sent her husband Bill and other surrogates to work the state, which has 75 delegates in play.
Mr Sanders is expected to do better in Utah and Idaho, states with predominantly white populations. But there has been little polling in either state, making the outcome uncertain.