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The state's political parties moved this year's primary up to Feb. 5 to make Arkansas more relevant in the nominating process — by the time Arkansas voted in 2004, John Kerry was the effective nominee — but the change seems unlikely to give the state more electoral muscle or attention.
Arkansas will contribute only a small fraction of Super Tuesday delegates to the national conventions — 3 percent for the Republicans and 2 percent for the Democrats. And the batch of primaries or caucuses Feb. 5 (22 Democratic and 21 Republican) probably won't decide the parties' nominees.
Still, the remaining Democratic contenders are fighting for all the votes they can get because every delegate counts and they are awarded proportionally to votes.
Barack Obama's campaign has been active across Arkansas for the past two weeks in the hope of snatching delegates from Sen. Hillary Clinton's longtime home. John Edwards doesn't have a local office, but he has also established a presence in Arkansas through One Corps, his campaign's grassroots organizing arm. The Edwards website lists 17 One Corps chapters in the state.
Obama's campaign opened a Little Rock field office two weeks ago. Its Arkansas effort is staffed primarily by volunteers who have been canvassing neighborhoods and conducting meet-ups at colleges. State director Tim Fraser said one of the focuses of the Arkansas campaign is independent voters.
Despite the added effort, Obama is fighting an uphill battle. The Obama field office has relatively meager resources. “[Mike] Huckabee is running a shoestring campaign nationwide,” said Pat O'Brien, who is Pulaski County clerk as well as an Obama volunteer. “We're running a shoestring campaign in Arkansas.”
Without much infrastructure or local clout compared with that of the former Arkansas first lady, Obama's office has relied on grassroots work. More than a hundred supporters passed through the new Little Rock headquarters at a kick-off party Jan. 19. One of these was Molly Miller, a Hendrix freshman. Miller is the type of voter that Obama needs: new to elections and politically independent. She said she had planned to vote for John McCain until she heard about Obama. She arranges Obama meet-up groups at Hendrix, which she said have gained momentum through Facebook, a social networking website.
Clinton's campaign is well rooted in the state. Her Arkansas headquarters has been open since October, she already has endorsements from state political figures, including Gov. Mike Beebe, and she has a volunteer list approaching 400. She has appeared at several local campaign events, including a town hall meeting this past Wednesday in North Little Rock.
Because of Clinton's history in Arkansas, the Obama campaign may have a shallower pool of independent voters to appeal to than in other states.
Clinton's campaign is attuned to Arkansas specifics. Clinton's Arkansas political director Brett Kincaid cited her renewable energy plan, which he said has the potential to create agricultural jobs in the state. In response to the same question, Fraser emphasized Obama's broader theme of political change.
Democratic voters also may choose from the names of several candidates who've withdrawn since filing — Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, Mike Gravel, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Gov. Bill Richardson.
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee is hoping to benefit from local name recognition in the Republican primary, which also will offer the names of Mitt Romney, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul. Huckabee has no organized field operation in Little Rock, although his national campaign is based here. The Huckabee office did not return multiple calls for comment on the candidate's Arkansas campaign plans.
Other candidates in the Republican field apparently believe that a local campaign against a longtime governor is not worth the investment. Though the Republican Party's Arkansas delegates are elected proportionally, only Ron Paul has mounted a local challenge to Huckabee. A Paul office opened in Fort Smith earlier this month. State director Jason Sheppard said there are about a dozen full-time volunteers canvassing across the state.
Before press time, spokesmen for Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani said they were focusing on the Florida primary and had no specific plans for Arkansas. The Republican candidates can be expected to concentrate on larger Super Tuesday states such as California and New York that have a winner-take-all primary. Some supporters of John McCain, however, have begun belated organizing, including brainstorming tactics to encourage Democratic crossover voting against Huckabee.
Arkansas Democrats will send 47 delegates to the August national convention, where the eventual nominee will need 2,025 to win. Twelve members of Arkansas's delegation, known as superdelegates, are selected by the party and will not be required to commit to a candidate before the national convention. The remaining 35 delegates will be chosen by voters on Tuesday and must commit.
In both parties, delegates are apportioned at the state and district level. Thirteen of the 35 elected Democratic delegates will be chosen based on statewide results of the primary. Twenty-two will be allocated based on a candidate's support in the state's four congressional districts. At both the state and district level, if a candidate gets less than 15 percent of the vote he receives no delegates. It is possible for a candidate to get under 15 percent of the vote across the state and still receive a delegate at the district level.
The Republican nominee will need 1,191 delegates. Arkansas will send 34 to the national convention in September, 31 of whom will be selected by voters on Tuesday and committed to a particular candidate. Nineteen of those will be allocated based on the statewide vote. Party rules stipulate that any candidate receiving 10 percent of the vote across the state will get at least one delegate. If a candidate takes 50 percent of the statewide vote he will get all the remaining statewide delegates. If no candidate wins a majority, the remaining delegates will be doled out proportionately among the three highest vote getters.
Twelve Republican delegates will be elected at the district level — 3 from each of the state's four congressional districts. Any candidate receiving more than 50 percent of the vote in a district will get all the district's delegates. Otherwise, the winner of the vote will get two and the runner-up will get one.
The Green Party will also hold its primary on Tuesday. Cynthia McKinney, Kent Mesplay, Kat Swift and Jared A. Ball will be on the ballot.
According to the secretary of state's office earlier this month, the Green Party has six registered voters in Arkansas. There are 57,851 registered Democrats and 44,437 registered Republicans. Most of Arkansas's 1.57 million registered voters are not aligned with a party. Tuesday's primaries are open; a voter can cast a ballot in any party primary if she has not listed a party loyalty on her registration form. Voter registration in the state has increased by about 10,000 from a month ago.
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