US voters head to the polls in Michigan and Mississippi on Tuesday to cast ballots in primaries to choose Republican and Democratic candidates for the 2016 presidential race.
The balloting will test Donald Trump’s status as clear Republican frontrunner, while Hillary Clinton hopes to further solidify her lead over Bernie Sanders.
Republicans also were holding nominating contests later in the day in Idaho and Hawaii.
But Michigan and Mississippi, where polls opened at 1200 GMT, are the big prizes of the day in terms of delegates.
In Michigan, Republicans were vying for 59 delegates while Democrats were competing for 130.
In Mississippi, 40 delegates were up for grabs in the Republican contest and 36 in the Democratic primary.
A total of 150 Republican delegates are at stake today out of 1,237 needed to win the party’s nomination, compared to 166 out of 4,763 on the Democratic side.
TRUMP, CLINTON FAVOURITES
A pre-vote Monmouth University survey showed Trump leading in Michigan with 36 per cent support, against 23 per cent for rival Ted Cruz.
Another contender, John Kasich, the governor of neighbouring Ohio, is hoping for a surprise in his favour.
There are no recent polls in Mississippi but last month Trump largely dominated his rivals there.
Among Democrats, Mrs Clinton is the favourite in both states.
That is especially true in Mississippi where African American voters represent an important voting bloc.
African Americans have voted by more than 80 per cent for Clinton in other states of the South.
Meanwhile, designer Karl Lagerfeld, the doyen of the fashion world known as “The Kaiser”, gave his backing today to Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign.
The German-born style icon said he “liked the idea” of Clinton taking over from Barack Obama at the White House.
“They had the first black president, what they need now is the first women president.
It has to change too,” he told AFP after unveiling his latest collection for Chanel in Paris.
Asked if he would be actively supporting Mrs Clinton, Lagerfeld, 82, said, “There is nobody else to support anyway!”
BLOOMBERG OUT OF WHITE HOUSE RACE
In another development, US billionaire Michael Bloomberg has announced that he would not throw his hat into the volatile race for the White House, fearing that his candidacy could lead to the election of Republican usurpers Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.
The 74-year-old former New York mayor has long considered an independent run for the White House.
Mr Bloomberg, whose $41.7 billion fortune makes him the eighth richest person in the world according to Forbes, accused fellow New York tycoon Trump of waging “the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember.”
“Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, appealed to our ‘better angels.’ Trump appeals to our worst impulses,” Bloomberg wrote in a column for his eponymous news agency.
He savaged Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, threatened deportation of millions of Mexicans and threatened trade wars against China and Japan as “all dangerously wrong.”