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Presidential hopefuls paying more attention to Alabama

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — Alabama is getting something it hasn't seen in years: Early attention from Democrats interested in being president.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina will attend a campaign fundraiser in Birmingham on Friday, and retired Gen. Wesley Clark was in Montgomery on Monday, his second trip since the fall. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack visited last year, and Rep. Artur Davis of Birmingham wants to host an Alabama fundraiser for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Both Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls are raising money and visiting the state earlier than usual because Alabama's presidential primary in 2008 will be among the first in the nation barring changes. It's now set for Feb. 5, 2008; it had been among the last, in June, beginning in 1992.

But something else may be in play for Democrats, who last carried the state in a presidential election in 1976 and, in past years, seemed to write off the state early as unwinnable.

"I really and truly believe the Democrats have an opportunity (to carry Alabama) they have not had," state party chairman Joe Turnham said Wednesday.

While the presidential election is nearly two years away, a political scientist said candidates in both the Democratic and Republican parties are showing more energy than usual because of the early primary and the fact the White House will be open in '08.

"I don't think there's a presidential candidate in either party that can afford to write off Alabama," said Sam Fisher of the University of South Alabama in Mobile.

With polls showing about two-thirds of Alabamians disapproving of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, Fisher said Democrats have a chance in the state if Iraq remains a major issue through the election.

Could boost turnout

Having Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton on New York in the primary could also help boost Democratic turnout.

"In a place like Alabama, that's going to spark a lot of attention because you've got a party that's traditionally been supportive of women's rights and minority rights," said Fisher.

Not that Republicans presidential hopefuls are conceding the state. Sen. John McCain attended Gov. Bob Riley's inauguration Monday, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will speak at a state Republican fundraiser in Montgomery on Feb. 9.

Tim Howe, executive director of the Alabama GOP, said the months leading up to the presidential primary in 2008 will be unlike anything the state has seen since the 1988 campaign as candidates try to get an early win in a Southern state.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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