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Dust begins to fly in preference primaries

By By Steve Flowers
The cavalcade of presidential preference primaries has begun. They will fall fast and furiously over the next two months and when the dust settles you will have a good idea who will be the Republican and Democratic Party nominees for the November general election.
The dynamics of the presidential race have changed dramatically this year. In years past New Hampshire and Iowa would hold their early primaries and caucuses in January or February. Then there would be a lull and states would fall in a month later and the primaries would be slowly staggered over four or five months up until the summer conventions. That has all changed this year. You will not have a six course slow dinner over six months. Instead you will be served a gigantic buffet on February 5th and then it will be all over but the shouting.
By Valentine's Day you will probably know who the nominees of both parties will be because the more populous states have moved up to the front of the bus. States with a lot of delegates and electoral votes have primaries on that super mega Tuesday of February 5th. We are one of twenty-two states voting for our preference for president that day. Included with us are New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, and Georgia. These big states coming early does not totally negate the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, but the only thing a victory there offers is the hope for some momentum. I am not saying they are irrelevant this year but if I was a presidential candidate's campaign manager and I had a candidate with plenty of money and name identification, who thus had staying power, I would not worry as much about the four delegates in Iowa as I would about the 400 in California.
As mentioned last week the democratic race is a two person contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They have national constituencies and name identification. Obama has the charisma. Clinton has the organization and perception that she can win.
In our February 5th primary on the democratic side the numbers portend a race which pretty much mirrors the national picture. Hillary shows a little more strength in Alabama than in nationwide polling. The race is very fluid and we will be affected by momentum swings dictated by other states.
Alabama's two predominantly African American political organizations are split on their endorsements. The Alabama Democratic Conference endorsed Hillary Clinton. The New South Coalition went with Barack Obama. These endorsements are not as important as they used to be. African American Alabama voters are more independent, sophisticated, educated and less monolithic than they were 40 years ago. However, they still vote overwhelmingly democratic and they comprise close to 50% of the voters who will vote in our democratic primary on February 5th.
The republican race is more contentious and volatile. Rudy Giuliani, who has been the national frontrunner for almost a year, has chosen the path I suggested earlier by basically skipping the three early small states and concentrating his efforts on the February 5th states which will dictate the final outcome. These states have all the delegates and are much more liberal on social issues even among republican voters. Mike Huckabee has done well in Iowa, but when you get past the Mason Dixon line he is weak. Mitt Romney with his personal wealth, which he has poured into his presidential bid, appears to have the organization and staying power to make the race to the end. John McCain, who faltered out of the gate and was counted out for dead six months ago, has arisen and has had a resurgence and is now a contender.
At this time the GOP race is changing daily which makes it difficult to determine how we in Alabama will go on February 5th. However, we will be a player in the game.
One thing to remember is that we are only voting for our preference for president on February 5th. Our local and statewide contests will be in June. We do have a hybrid situation for those of you in Baldwin and Mobile counties. You will be able to vote one week early because of the Mardi Gras holiday. However, your votes will not be counted until February 5th when the rest of the state votes.
Get ready for a unique and interesting presidential election year.
See you next week.
?Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.