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The Latest: Trump vows to boost Christian political power

WASHINGTON (AP) β€” The Latest on campaign 2016 (all times Eastern Standard Time): 9:20 p.m. Donald Trump is repeating his vow to work to boost Christians' political power if he's elected president as he makes his final pitch to Mississippi voters. The GOP front-runner says, "Christianity is...

WASHINGTON (AP) β€” The Latest on campaign 2016 (all times Eastern Standard Time):

9:20 p.m.

Donald Trump is repeating his vow to work to boost Christians' political power if he's elected president as he makes his final pitch to Mississippi voters.

The GOP front-runner says, "Christianity is being chipped away."

He says that if Christians could band together, they'd be the country's most potent lobby.

Trump says regulations that limit the political activity of pastors and others who lead tax-exempt organizations "shut Christianity down." He adds that Christians are "really being silenced and we can't let that happen."

Trump was speaking at a rally in Madison, Mississippi.

Republicans in Idaho, Michigan and Hawaii will also be voting Tuesday.


9:05 p.m.

Marco Rubio's campaign is sending an automated phone call to Michigan primary voters in which Mitt Romney urges them not to vote for Donald Trump.

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee says in the robocall that he's "convinced" that Trump would lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton in November's general election. He reiterates his recent criticism that Trump would make the country less safe.

Romney doesn't urge a vote for Rubio in Tuesday's Michigan primary. Instead, he asks listeners to vote for "a candidate" who can defeat Clinton and "who can make us proud."

Besides Trump and Rubio, other Republicans still in the race are Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.


8:40 p.m.

GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump embraced his flair for the dramatic Monday evening when he had his motorcade drive onto the spotlit field of a Mississippi high school football stadium after delivering a speech inside the school's auditorium.

Trump had been scheduled to hold a rally at Madison Central High School at 7 p.m., but instead began nearly 90 minutes early after the room reached its 2,500-person capacity not long after doors opened.

Meanwhile, thousands of people denied entry were ushered into the school's giant football stadium, where Trump's speech was shown live on the stadium's Jumbotron.

Shortly after he finished his speech inside the auditorium, Trump got into his motorcade and drove over to the stadium, where he made a dramatic second entrance.

Trump waved from his SUV window as the cars partially circled the field. He then drove off into the night.


8:20 p.m.

Hillary Clinton is asking Michigan primary voters for their support, but also looking ahead to November.

"The sooner I could become your nominee the more I can begin to turn my attention to the Republicans," Clinton told about 850 people gathered at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit Monday night.

The night before the Michigan primary, Clinton stressed her commitment to supporting manufacturing, a recurring theme for her in Michigan. And she repeated her campaign promise to "knock down barriers," pledging to boost wages, improve schools and fight racial injustice.

"We have work to do and I am excited about doing it," Clinton said.


8 p.m.

John Kasich is criticizing Hillary Clinton for saying Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder should resign over the lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan.

Campaigning in Snyder's state, Kasich says Clinton's remarks in Sunday's Democratic debate that Snyder should resign or be recalled are "the definition of gall." He's suggesting Clinton is hypocritical without offering specifics.

"Of all the people in the world to call on someone to resign," Kasich says, adding, "we'll get to that in the fall."

Snyder is not endorsing anyone in Tuesday's Michigan primary, but Kasich has defended the Republican governor's response to the Flint water crisis on several occasions.


6:41 p.m.

Hillary Clinton says she has the "greatest respect" for Mike Bloomberg, just hours after the former New York City mayor announced he'd not launch an independent bid for the White House.

The Democratic presidential front runner says she looks "forward to continuing to work with him and finding ways he can continue to show leadership.

Her rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is taking a harsher approach during the same Fox News town hall in Detroit.

Sanders says he's concerned "on a broader scale is Mr. Bloomberg is a billionaire." Sanders adds that it's "a bad idea for American democracy" that only the wealthy believe they can run. He reiterated his promises to revamp the campaign finance system.

They spoke hours after Bloomberg announced he would forego the 2016 race.


6:19 p.m.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is endorsing Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for president.

The Cruz campaign announced the endorsement Monday, which comes the day before Mississippi votes in the presidential primary. Forty GOP delegates are at stake.

Bryant says in a statement that "It's time for Republicans to join together and unite the party for the good of our state and our nation."

Cruz is trying to position himself as the only Republican who can defeat front runner Donald Trump. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich also remain in the race.


5:56 p.m.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is dismissing Ted Cruz' momentum in the state ahead of the March 15 primary on which Rubio has staked his presidential campaign.

Rubio says Cruz has had a good week mostly because of the states that have voted, particularly Kansas and Louisiana, that have been won by social conservatives like Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have won in the past.

He says, "These are the states that were tailor-made for the kind of campaign (Cruz) is running." Rubio adds that the upcoming slate "gets a lot tougher" for Cruz and better for the Florida senator. "We feel good about the long-term prospects," he said. "We just gotta do it."


5:05 p.m.

Billionaire media mogul and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg says he's decided against mounting a third-party bid for the White House.

Bloomberg has spent months mulling an independent campaign. He made his decision official on Monday in a column posted on company's BloombergView website.

A Democrat-turned-Republican-turned independent, Bloomberg had set a mid-March deadline to make a decision about running so as to have enough time to make all 50 state ballots.


5:00 p.m.

Ted Cruz is telling Mississippi voters that it's easy to talk about making America great again but it's more important to understand the principles on which the country was founded.

The day before Mississippi's primaries, Cruz stood on a table and spoke to more than 200 people at a catfish restaurant in Florence, a blue-collar suburb Jackson. The room's wallpaper was black-and-white photos from the Andy Griffith Show. A 110-foot cross dominates the parking lot of the restaurant that's built to look like a barn.

Cruz won rowdy applause by saying he will protect gun owners' rights, eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and nominate strict constitutionalists to the Supreme Court.


4:55 p.m.

Marco Rubio's campaign says Donald Trump is flip-flopping on his characterization of the Florida senator, attacking Rubio as "corrupt" after praising him four years ago as a possible vice presidential pick.

The campaign's comments come in response to a Trump campaign advertisement rolled out Monday. The ad attacks Rubio as a "corrupt, all-talk, no-action politician." It is also packed with accusations of loose spending by Rubio, attacks that came up during the 2010 Senate race in which Rubio faced then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Rubio campaign spokesman Joe Pounder said the attacks in the ad were "false" and questioned why Trump was bringing them up now.

"These attacks didn't even stop Trump himself from saying Mitt Romney should pick Marco as his vice president just two years later," Pounder said.

Pounder referred to a Trump tweet from 2012 in which the billionaire tells Romney that he should consider Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell as vice presidential picks. "Really good men doing a really good job," Trump tweeted about the trio. Christie, who ended his presidential bid earlier this year, has endorsed Trump. McDonnell is appealing a 2014 public corruption conviction.


3:50 p.m.

Donald Trump is attacking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on his home turf in a new television advertisement, the Trump campaign says.

A minute-long version of the Trump ad concludes, "Marco Rubio: Another corrupt, all-talk, no-action politician."

The new commercial is airing as Rubio, the state's freshman senator, is expected to arrive in his home state and stay for a heavy schedule of campaigning. Rubio considers Florida a must-win contest and has trailed Trump in some recent polls. The Florida primary is March 15, and early voting has been underway for weeks.

Trump has hit Rubio for missing Senate votes and lately has called for him to drop out of the race for the GOP nomination.

This is the first Trump ad to go after Rubio. Other Trump commercials have focused on Ted Cruz, including one that calls him the "worst kind of Washington insider, who just can't be trusted." That ad has aired mostly in South Carolina, where Trump topped Cruz, and in the Texas senator's home state, where Cruz prevailed on Super Tuesday last week.


3:11 p.m.

John Kasich is telling a crowd in Michigan that he shouldn't have answered a question in last week's debate about whether he'd support Donald Trump if he wins the GOP presidential nomination.

Pushed by a self-identified Democratic voter to retract his potential support for Trump, Kasich said he "shouldn't have even answered the question" because he plans on "being the GOP nominee, not Donald Trump."

The Ohio governor reiterated his debate comments that Trump sometimes "makes it difficult" to support him. Kasich declined to engage on the questioner's comments that Trump and his supporters are racists and bigots.

Kasich is also defending his comments in the recent GOP debate that gay people who are denied services should find another business who will serve them rather than suing. The same voter is comparing Kasich's position to black people being barred from sitting in whites-only sections of diners.

Kasich says states shouldn't pass new laws until they are absolutely necessary. Referencing the Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage, Kasich says, "let's just let everybody take a deep breath and see if we can get along and use common sense."


2:50 p.m.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says those in the GOP who are advocating an "anyone-but-Trump" approach to derail Donald Trump's presidential primary hopes won't be successful.

Christie said Monday his experience has been that those who are only against something and not for something usually are ineffective.

He says he believes the stop-Trump movement in the GOP "will fail, " adding that "If they want to be for one of the four remaining candidates, do what I did: be for one of the four remaining candidates."

The governor made his comments at an elementary charter school in Newark.

Christie dropped out of the GOP presidential primary race last month and has been the only candidate in the field to endorse Trump, who leads the race for delegates.


2:30 p.m.

Hillary Clinton stopped by a Michigan chili dog eatery Monday β€” and took lunch to go.

Clinton visited Yesterdog in Grand Rapids Michigan, where she bought six chili dogs for her team and some locally made cheese curls.

The longtime local spot, decorated with vintage signs and photos, specializes in chili dogs. Clinton bought the "Ultradog," which is topped with chili, cheese, ketchup, mustard, onion and pickle.

Clinton was gifted a hat, but did not put it on. She posed for photos with the staff and customers and called out "I hope you vote tomorrow," as she headed out the door.


2:15 p.m.

Hillary Clinton says the FBI's legal battle with Apple over an encrypted iPhone amounts to a difficult public policy dilemma.

Clinton told a small group at a technology company in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Monday that there's "got to be some way to protect the privacy of data information," but also a way to "follow-up on criminal activity and prevent crimes of terrorism."

Federal authorities want Apple's help in bypassing iPhone security features so they can attempt to unlock the encrypted phone. Apple and other tech companies have objected, arguing that the government essentially wants Apple to create a "back door" that could make all iPhones vulnerable to hacking.

Clinton said the "real mistrust between the tech companies and the government right now is a serious problem that has to somehow be worked through."

Clinton also questioned if there was a way to get this information "without opening the door and causing more and worse consequences."


2:14 p.m.

Hillary Clinton says that if she is the Democratic nominee she hopes that Bernie Sanders will support her "the way I supported President Obama when I dropped out."

Clinton spoke to a small group gathered at a technology company in Grand Rapids, Michigan Monday. Asked about how to motivate Sanders supporters in a general election, she recalled her efforts to get Obama elected in 2008.

She said she and Obama ran in a, "really tough primary," which Clinton lost. She recalled that she had "a lot of passionate supporters who did not feel like they wanted to support then-Senator Obama." Clinton said that from then to Election Day, she worked hard and this year "would hope to be able to enlist Bernie" to enlist his supporters in her campaign.

Clinton also stressed her commitment to continuing to work on issues that Sanders has stressed throughout his campaign, like income inequality, saying that they both "are in vigorous agreement that we've got to take these issues on."


1:40 p.m.

Protesters are interrupting Donald Trump in North Carolina.

Teams of law enforcement and security officers removed more than a half-dozen groups of people who interrupted the businessman's rally in Concord, North Carolina. Before Trump even took the stage, a group of more than a dozen young people, clad mostly in black, were escorted out of the building after linking hands and standing to the side of the stage.

The final two people escorted from the arena held three fingers in the air in a kind of salute. One of the men had on a yellow emblem reading, "Stop Islamophobia."

Trump paused at each interruption as his supporters simultaneously booed the protesters and cheered on law enforcement. "Go home to mommy," he said, as one man was removed. "Let her tuck you in bed."

Trump spent much of his time on stage discussing trade and his ability to create jobs, including here in North Carolina, where his Trump National Golf Club sits about an hour from the arena where he spoke Monday. He also led the crowd in a pledge to cast their votes for him on March 15.


1:16 p.m.

Bernie Sanders is accusing Hillary Clinton of mischaracterizing his position on the federal government's 2008 bailout of the auto industry on the eve of Michigan's presidential primary.

The Vermont senator says at a Monday rally in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that he voted in 2008 for the rescue of the auto industry in the Senate when it was a stand-alone issue and not included in a bailout for Wall Street. The Senate measure ultimately failed and President George W. Bush approved more than $13 billion in federal aid to the automakers.

Clinton accused Sanders of opposing the auto bailout during Sunday night's presidential debate in Flint, Michigan. The state is home to the U.S. auto industry.

Sanders says Clinton is on the defensive because of his criticism of her for supporting bad trade deals, leading her to "say things that are just not quite correct."

He says he will "make no apologies" for not voting to "bail out the crooks on Wall Street whose illegal behavior and greed brought this economy into the worst downturn since the 1930s."


1:03 p.m.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto says he thinks comments by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump damage U.S.-Mexico relations.

The Republican presidential frontrunner has pledged to build a wall along the two countries' borders. He has also said Mexican immigrants bring crime and drugs to the U.S. and that many are "rapists."

Pena Nieto said in an interview with the newspaper El Universal published Monday that he condemns Trump's remarks.

Nieto says it appears to him that Trump's comments "hurt the relationship we have sought with the United States."

But the Mexican president says his country will try to work with whoever is elected U.S. president.

Pena Nieto until now has avoided direct comments on Trump, and said he would be "absolutely respectful" of the U.S. political process.


12:52 p.m.

John Kasich is telling Michigan voters he has the tenacity and experience to make real change in Washington.

Kasich tells an audience at a community college in Monroe, Michigan, that, "to make things better, you have to step on toes, there are no two ways around it."

The Ohio governor has been making the case that he understands the anger and anxieties of Donald Trump supporters. But Kasich says that unlike the GOP front runner, he also understands how to fix the country's problems.

Kasich is using that same persistence in his long-shot bid for the GOP presidential nomination. A strong showing in Michigan's Tuesday primary and a win in his home state of Ohio on March 15 are critical to his ability to continue in the race.


12:50 p.m.

Protesters are being removed ahead of a Donald Trump rally in Concord, North Carolina.

The group of about a dozen young men and women, all clad in black, filed down to the floor of an arena on Monday and linked hands, forming a line to the side of the stage where the businessman planned to speak. Law enforcement officers spoke to the group, which ultimately filed out, some with one fist raised in the air.

Another group of a handful of men and women was similarly escorted out a few minutes later.


12:40 p.m.

Donald Trump is spending some of his biggest money yet on campaign ads ahead of winner-take-all contests next week in Florida and Ohio.

He plans to spend about $2 million on Florida TV commercials and $1 million in Ohio by March 15, the day of the vote, according to advertising tracker Kantar Media's CMAG. Trump's campaign has also reserved about half a million dollars in TV time in Michigan, where voters go to the polls on Tuesday.

Overall, Trump - a master of free publicity - is on track to spend about $15 million in the primary race, CMAG shows. That's a few million dollars less than Rubio, who has won far fewer contests than Trump, and a few million dollars more than Cruz, who so far has been Trump's closest competitor.


11:30 a.m.

The latest count of absentee and early voters in Florida is showing that more than 571,000 Republicans have already cast their ballots for next week's crucial winner-take-all primary.

Just over 1 million Floridians have cast their ballots, according to University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith, who tracks and analyzes early voting data. So far, he says, GOP voters outnumber Democratic voters by about 109,000.

Among Republicans, said Smith, 86 percent are white and 11 percent are Hispanic. Among Democrats, 68 percent are white, 19 percent are black and 10 percent are Hispanic.

Florida is a closed primary, meaning only party members can vote in their respective primary.