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Sen. McCain to speak to Legislature Tuesday

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain will address a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday afternoon, supporting the claim that Alabama is on the nation’s political radar.

For now.

Political observers in Montgomery say the Arizona Republican’s 12:30 p.m. appearance at the State House is the first address to the Legislature by a presidential contender since Ronald Reagan ran for re-election in 1984. Afterward, several larger states moved their presidential primaries to the first Tuesday in March and Alabama lost influence.

The Legislature voted in 2006 to move the state’s presidential primaries from June to the first Tuesday in February to attract more contenders to the state. In recent presidential elections, many candidates have bypassed Alabama altogether.

State Democratic and Republican leaders say moving the primary has worked. Five Democrats, including Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., and at least three Republicans have appeared in the state so far this year.

‘Test state’

State Democratic Party Executive Director Jim Spearman said moving up the primaries was “one of the best things the state ever did” for national visibility for presidential contenders. “I believe we are a test state, being one of the first to hold a primary,” Spearman said. “This will be a way for them to test the waters in the South.”

So far, the only other Deep South state with an early primary is South Carolina, but that could change if Florida jumps into the competition.

New state Republican Party Executive Director John Ross, who was in his first day on the job Monday, said multiple visits by McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney show the national party’s interest in Alabama. Ross, a former Decatur resident, said he believes that interest will help Alabama voters be more engaged in the presidential process.

But Auburn University Montgomery political science professor Bradley Moody said the attention may not last if larger states continue to move up their primaries. The cluster of early primaries will make it harder for lesser-known candidates to have a chance and could ultimately mean less attention for Alabama.

“With all the primaries clustered together, it will make it harder for someone like Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton to be president,” Moody said. If lesser known candidates are not able to raise significant money in the year before a presidential election, Moody said, they won’t stand a chance at winning their party’s nomination.

“The time between the March primaries and the November election will be endless,” Moody said.

“The conventions will become even less relevant, with the focus only on who will be the vice president.

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