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Alabama Democratic leaders say candidates should campaign here

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s entry into the presidential race is exciting Alabama Democrats, who rate her, Barack Obama and John Edwards as the candidates to watch in the state’s new presidential primary.

Clinton announced Saturday that she will file papers Monday to form a presidential exploratory committee. Obama, an Illinois senator, and Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004, have already taken that step.

“I’d put Obama, Clinton and Edwards in a clump of three, with the others in the back,” said Joe Turnham, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

He said Clinton is probably supported by about one-fourth of the likely Democratic voters in Alabama, and if she wants to build on that, she will have to campaign actively in the state — something President Bill Clinton didn’t do because he had the nomination locked up before Alabama’s primary.

The Alabama Legislature has moved up Alabama’s presidential primary by four months to Feb. 5, 2008. The state will go from being last in the South to second behind South Carolina. Because of that, the state is getting more attention from likely presidential candidates of both parties.

Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association and a vice chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said Clinton’s Southern roots will

Clinton’s Southern roots will help her in Alabama, and her announcement Saturday was clearly designed to show she wants a dialogue on issues important to women voters.

“Women tend to be more concerned about educating the young and caring for the old,” he said.

In Hubbert’s view, Clinton and Edwards are the candidates to watch now in Alabama. He said Obama is very bright and is getting a lot of attention, but his lack of experience may hurt him in a Deep South state like Alabama.

“He may be four years ahead of his time,” Hubbert said.

Not so, said Joe Reed. “He’s older than John F. Kennedy was.”

Reed, associate executive secretary of AEA and chairman of the state Democratic Party’s black wing, said he’d like to see Obama become president, but his challenge will be to attract white voters in Alabama as he did in Illinois.

Clinton leads poll

AEA’s polling firm finished a survey Wednesday of likely Democratic voters in Alabama and found Clinton with 27 percent, Obama with 19 percent, John Edwards with 14 percent, former Vice President Al Gore with 11 percent, and 22 percent undecided or not answering.

Nancy Worley, Alabama’s former secretary of state and a former Decatur teacher, said the top three in the poll are the ones to watch in Alabama. “At this point, I don’t see anybody as a front-runner in the state,” she said.

Jerome Gray, retired field director for the black Alabama Democratic Conference, recalled that the last time Alabama had an early presidential primary was in 1988, and Jesse Jackson carried the Democratic primary.

“If blacks support Obama, he will run as well as Jesse Jackson,” Gray predicted. “He’s an attractive candidate and he energizes young voters.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said he will support retired Gen. Wesley Clark if he enters the Democratic race. “He’s a guy — with the nation like we are today — who has a lot to offer,” Sparks said.

Sparks noted that Edwards had a fundraising reception in Birmingham on Friday, but didn’t campaign publicly in the city. Clark, however, campaigned across the state last fall with Sparks and other Democrats.

“These folks who want to fly in, have a fundraiser and fly out, I’m not for them. They need to talk to people who’ve lost their jobs in textile mills. They need to talk to farmers who aren’t doing as well as they used to,” Sparks said.

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

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