ANCHORAGE - Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry emerged as the favored presidential candidate among Alaska Democrats who attended district caucuses Saturday in Juneau, Sitka, Fairbanks, Soldotna, the Matanuska-Susitna region and rural areas.
"People want to see George Bush defeated and many think John Kerry can do it," said Alaska Democratic Party Chairman Scott Sterling, who himself remained uncommitted.
Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee nationwide, also commanded overwhelming support at caucuses in Anchorage, Kenai and Kodiak last weekend.
With 85 percent of districts reporting by Saturday evening, the official total count stood at 159 delegates for Kerry; 86 for Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich - a longshot who visited Alaska just before the weekend caucuses; 38 for former Democratic hopeful Howard Dean of Vermont, and nine for North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who also has dropped out of the running.
Forty-one delegates were uncommitted.
In 2000, Alaska Democrats threw their support to former Vice President Al Gore.
Bridget Gallagher, executive director of Alaska Democratic Party, said she was pleased at the large turnout at caucuses across the state this year.
"There were a lot of new faces," Gallagher said. "I think it's indicative there's a real enthusiasm in terms of the great Democratic candidates we have this cycle and lot of frustration with the present administration."
Sterling said these are preliminary counts only, and delegates may change their minds before the state or national Democratic conventions.
"People can still pledge to someone else for leverage on an issue or because they don't want to go with the popular choice," Sterling said. "Every delegate gets to vote their conscience, their preference. But in the name of unity and winning, people eventually put aside their differences and get behind the nominee."
Altogether, 394 delegate slots are authorized for the Democratic state convention, but sometimes the number falls below that, Sterling said. Delegates represent the 40 state Democratic district caucuses for which jurisdictions are designated by the 40 state House districts.
The state convention is scheduled for May 21-23 in Anchorage.
Delegates there will choose 18 voting delegates to send to the national convention, where more than 4,300 delegates will elect a nominee for president. The national convention will be held in Boston on July 26-29.
Alaska Republicans will hold their district conventions in late March and April, and their state convention May 20-22 in Soldotna.