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Long ignored by national politicians, Alaska is enjoying a rare moment of political relevance as one of the states voting on "super-duper Tuesday" next week.
The Republican challenger Mitt Romney sent his son, Josh, to meet local supporters in Alaska; Ron Paul has offices in the state’s two biggest cities – Anchorage and Fairbank; and on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has captured the support of the state’s party chairwoman; Barack Obama has opened premises in Anchorage and has dispatched three staff to get out the vote.
While the Republicans are holding a ballot, Democrats have opted for caucuses requiring voters to gather in order to state their preferences. Although a majority of voters live in Alaska’s handful of sizable cities, this poses a unique challenges in the state’s remote interior "bush".
The Democrats are laying on caucus venues wherever there are two or more voters who want to participate. In 2004, there was only demand for one location in Alaska’s rural hinterland. This time, there will be at least 11.
"These communities are not typically connected by road – there’s no way to travel between them except by snow machine and that’s unlikely to happen," says Kay Brown, communications director for the Alaskan Democrats. "This is the biggest organizational effort that’s been made ever by the Democratic party here."
Among the caucus venues are an Inupiat community center in the tiny town of Barrow, which is perched on Alaska’s northern coast some 300 miles above the Arctic Circle.
Voters can state their preferences at a local radio station in Fort Yukon, a town of 600 people where winter temperatures regularly dip to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Or there will be a caucus in a chapel on one of the Aleutian Islands, which trail south-west of Alaska towards Siberia.
In past election years, Alaska’s turn has come too late in the nomination process to affect the outcome of the presidential race. Its influence remains small – of 1,110 delegates to the Republican national convention, only 29 will be from Alaska and out of 2,075 delegates in the Democratic process, just 18 will be Alaskan.