FAIRFAX, UNITED STATES
Americans began voting on Tuesday in what is deemed the most pivotal day in the presidential nominating process, with frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hoping to wipe out their rivals.
Voters in a dozen states will take part in “Super Tuesday” - a series of primaries and caucuses in states ranging from Alaska to Virginia, with Virginia the first to open its polling stations at 6 am (1100 GMT).
If Democrat Clinton and Republican Trump - an outspoken billionaire political neophyte who has unexpectedly tapped into a vein of conservative rage at conventional politics - win big, it could spell doom for their challengers.
Hours before polls opened, the duo made last-ditch appeals to supporters ahead of a day like few others on the calendar leading up to the November election for the White House.
Mr Trump’s Republican rivals, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, were frantically trying to halt the real estate magnate’s march toward nomination, seeking to unite the party against the man they see as a non-conservative political interloper.
CLINTON RIDING HIGH
Clinton meanwhile was riding high after thrashing rival Bernie Sanders in South Carolina over the weekend, securing an astronomical 86 percent of the African-American vote in her third win in four contests.
Should she win black voters by similar margins in places like Alabama, Georgia and Virginia, she should dominate there to become once again the inevitable candidate.
That was her status at the start of the campaign - before the rise of Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.
She was leaving nothing to chance, travelling to multiple states on Monday to urge a strong turnout.
Mrs Clinton also took aim at the increasingly hostile campaign rhetoric on the Republican side led by Trump.
“I really regret the language being used by Republicans. Scapegoating people, finger-pointing, blaming. That is not how we should behave toward one another,” she told hundreds gathered at a university in Fairfax, Virginia.
“We’re going to demonstrate, starting tomorrow on Super Tuesday, there’s a different path that Americans ought to take.”
Meanwhile, the State Department yesterday made public the final batch of emails taken from a private server which former secretary of state Clinton controversially used during her time in office.
Mrs Clinton will hope the release will quiet the furor over her decision to spurn a government email account, but federal investigators are still probing whether her home-brew set-up posed a risk to national security.
The email scandal has been seized upon by Clinton’s Republican opponents and is one of the few major clouds still looming over her otherwise very promising campaign to become the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the final batch of roughly 3,800 pages of mails brought the sum total released to more than 52,000 vetted.