FAIRBANKS - Alaska Republicans and Democrats have joined at least 20 other states in pushing up their caucuses to the earliest possible date in an effort to gain more influence in the 2008 presidential election.
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The caucuses will be held Feb. 5, the earliest date allowed. In 2004 Democrats held their caucus in March, while Republicans waited until the end of May.
"We just want to make sure we're early enough to be relevant," said Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, adding that earlier caucuses could allow candidates to visit the state.
Only 15 states will hold caucuses or primaries after February, according to the Pew Research Center's Stateline.org, and at least 28 states will have them by Feb 5, including electoral powerhouses New York, Texas, Florida and California. By that date in 2004, only nine states had held their caucuses or primaries.
Alaska Democratic Party spokeswoman Kay Brown said her party is seeking more influence in the election.
"We want Alaska to be part of the national process," she said. "We want to have the Alaska caucuses before everything is decided."
Both Alaska parties on Feb. 5 will host meetings for each of the state's 40 House districts - district caucuses for Democrats and district conventions for Republicans - at which registered party members will have a chance to pick delegates based on the delegates' support for particular candidates.
Delegates chosen at the district level will then push their candidates at the parties' statewide conventions, where delegates will be chosen for the national conventions.
The Republican state convention is scheduled for March 13-15, and the Democratic convention is scheduled for May 23-25.
Local party officials offered mixed support for the shift forward.
Don Gray, a regional vice chairman for the state Democratic party, said the switch might help the state get more attention from candidates.
Todd Larkin, a district chairman for the Republican party, expressed concern that clustering the primaries early on could predetermine the outcome of the national convention.
"Yeah, I want Alaska to be important, but at the same time it seems now like the election will just be a formality," he said.
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