Some Arizona Democrats already will have their presidential primary ballots in hand as Iowa voters head to party caucuses today to start selecting a challenger for President Bush.
Maricopa County mailed about 18,000 early ballots Friday for Arizona’s Feb. 3 primary.
Early voting officially starts Tuesday, and interested voters have until Jan. 30 to request ballots if they don’t want to go to the polls on election day.
There are eight national candidates and 10 other names on the Democratic ballot.
This will be the first time that Democrats take part in the state-sponsored presidential primary since it was created for the 1996 election. Most attention is on the Democrats because the Republican and Libertarian parties decided to pick delegates at state conventions this year.
In prior elections, national party rules forced Arizona Democrats to hold their vote near the end of March, when the race was largely over.
That changed last year as the Democratic National Committee took notice of Arizona’s growing population and potential to support either Republican or Democrat contenders.
Gov. Janet Napolitano also used her authority under state law to move the primary three weeks earlier than in 1996 or 2000. That placed Arizona in the first major block of states to cast ballots for presidential nominees.
Arizona Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson said he believes Arizona’s early primary will spur more Democratic activity that could affect statewide and county races later this year.
"In past years, we’ve just been sitting on the sidelines and did not really get any involvement under the actual election," Pederson said. "Now, we’re participating in selecting our next nominee. There’s been a spike in registration. It’s in the newspaper almost every day, and people are getting excited. In terms of the (general) election in November, it increases the interest enormously."