The state of Alabama is part of the so-called SEC primary, which also includes the southern states of Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Since southern states are considered conservative and evangelical strongholds, a decisive victory will do much to embolden the GOP candidate who is looking to face the Democratic nominee down the road.
CBS News reported that Ted Cruz "has called the SEC primary his 'firewall'", and before Jeb Bush left the race, "the super PAC Right to Rise planned to spend nearly $17 million on advertising in the SEC primary states". While Alabama certainly does not have the most delegates to award, 50 is not an insignificant number, and a strong finish in Alabama, and in the other SEC states, could help change the tide, or reaffirm the top spot, for the remaining candidates.
Alabama primary polling clearly gives Trump a comfortable lead heading into Super Tuesday. At Real Clear Politics, the average in Alabama shows an 18% point spread between first and second with the following totals: Trump 35.5%, Rubio 17.5%, Cruz 15.5%, Carson 11.5%, and Kasich 5%. It is no surprise that in the conservative south, Trump has continued to poll high with evangelicals, who make up a good percentage of likely voters, as he has done elsewhere this election cycle. While this is a problem for Rubio, it is mostly a setback for Cruz, who has expected to do much better with evangelicals than he has done up to this point. Futhermore, the fact that Cruz is polling so close to Carson is cause for concern. Who knows how that will play out come Tuesday, but given Carson's lack of fire, substance, and good primary finishes thus far, one would think Cruz should be polling higher.
Over at FiveThirtyEight, the forecast for Alabama as we head into Super Tuesday looks much the same. As far as the candidates' chance of winning the state, based on state and national polls, as well as endorsements, they report: Trump 79%, Rubio 19%, and Cruz 2%. The 538 polling averages are only slight different than RCP, but the candidates place in the same spot: Trump 35.8%, Rubio 20.9%, Cruz 14.2%, Carson 9.3%, and Kasich 7%. Again, a region where a few months ago Cruz might have been a lock to dominate now shows him struggling in third. This does not bode well for his chances going into the other SEC primary states, as well as going forward in the campaign.
As mentioned previously, 50 delegates are at stake in Alabama. This breaks down to 26 at-large, 21 congressional district, and 3 automatic. As stated by the AL GOP, a candidate could win all the delegates, but that's not likely, since "the candidate would have to receive 50% plus one vote of the statewide GOP primary votes". With five candidates in the running, this is not expected to occur. According to Josh Putnam, a lecturer in Political Science at the University of Georgia:
If one candidate receives a majority of the statewide vote, that candidate wins all 26 at-large delegates. If one candidate receives a majority of the vote in a congressional district, that candidate wins all three delegates from that district.
Should only one candidate clear 20% statewide, that candidate already would control 50% +1 (delegate) of the Alabama delegation without even considering the results in the congressional districts.
...the allocation rules in Alabama will tend toward either winnowing the field or reinforcing the winnowing that has already occurred in the carve out state contests.
As far as endorsements go, Marco Rubio is ahead of the pack in Alabama. On Thursday of this week, the Rubio campaign could boast of 31 elected officials in the state who had endorsed him, including the State Senate Majority Leader, Gregg Reed, and a host of state Senators and Representatives. The list is here. Representative Will Ainsworth:
"Now that this field has started to winnow, it's clear that any vote not for Marco is a vote for Donald Trump. We need our nominee to be a serious conservative that can win in November and that is what Marco Rubio will be."
CANDIDATE CAMPAIGN STOPS
All candidates, except John Kasich, were scheduled to make stops in Alabama before Super Tuesday, as reported by AL.com on Friday.
Donald Trump - On the schedule for Trump, a stop in Madison, AL at the Madison Municipal Stadium on Sunday, February 28. As reported by AL.com at the time of their Friday article, 20,000 had registered to attend the event.
Marco Rubio - Two stops were on Rubio's schedule for Saturday, February 27, in a state where he has many endorsements. The first in Birmingham, a candidates' forum, and the second in Huntsville, a private fundraiser.
Ted Cruz - On Cruz's schedule was a stop on Saturday evening in Montgomery. Though originally scheduled to attend the candidates' forum in Birmingham as well, he dropped out on Thursday.
Ben Carson - Scheduled to be at Auburn University in Montgomery on Monday, March 1 at a student-only event not open to the public.
John Kasich - Not scheduled to be in Alabama, or anywhere in the south, in the days before Super Tuesday.
I predict that Trump will come out on top in Alabama when the votes are counted on Super Tuesday. As it stands now, with his endorsements and from what polling data shows, it seems Rubio will come in second, and Ted Cruz third. Although they will be close, it appears that Rubio does has a slight edge over Cruz in the region where Cruz should be most victorious - the deep South, filled with conservative evangelicals.
PS. I encourage Kasich and Carson to just go home.