FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Tomorrow’s Democratic presidential primaries are being dubbed “Hispanic Tuesday” here in the Southwest in recognition of the large role Hispanic voters could play, for the first time, this early in a nomination contest.
Arizona holds a primary and New Mexico holds caucuses, and together they constitute more delegate votes than Missouri or any of the other four states holding contests tomorrow.
Most of the major candidates will campaign in Arizona today at a forum sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens in Phoenix. Their presence has made Hispanic Tuesday as important to tomorrow’s outcome as who wins South Carolina, the first contest in the South, or Missouri, the largest state so far.
“As it’s turned out, all of the candidates will have gone [to Arizona or New Mexico] by February 3 and campaigned extensively within both states, but with a particular focus on the Hispanic community,” said Adam Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University.
Polls show Sen. John Kerry leading in both states. A Zogby/MSNBC/Reuters tracking poll gave Mr. Kerry 36 percent support in Arizona, leading Wesley Clark’s 24 percent and Howard Dean’s 14 percent.
An Albuquerque Journal poll released yesterday showed Mr. Kerry with 31 percent support among possible New Mexico Democratic caucusgoers. Mr. Clark trailed with 15 percent support, and Mr. Dean had 14 percent.
An Arizona Republic survey showed a tighter race, with Mr. Kerry at 29 percent and Mr. Clark at 20 percent. Mr. Dean trailed with 12 percent.
The two states could play a major role in boosting Mr. Clark’s candidacy. Along with Oklahoma, they are where he has the best shot of doing well and sparking his campaign, which came in a mediocre third in New Hampshire after skipping Iowa’s caucuses.
Yesterday, Mr. Clark, a retired Army general, was in Flagstaff, where he spoke more about his military service and his low military paycheck than he did when campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire. At one point, he detailed the four bullets he took in earning his Purple Heart as a captain in Vietnam.
“I’m the only guy in this race who has done foreign policy — a lot of people can talk about it, but I did it,” said Mr. Clark, who commanded U.S. forces in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Mr. Segal said Mr. Clark’s military record, and that of Mr. Kerry, who is also a Vietnam veteran, should play well among Hispanic voters.
That leaves Mr. Dean, who once topped the polls in both states, playing catch-up.
On Saturday, Mr. Dean was in Tucson, speaking to an almost totally white crowd of more than 1,000 at a city park. He delivered his standard stump speech, peppered with particularly harsh criticism of Mr. Kerry.
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat and a supporter of Mr. Dean, said it was a tight race among the top three.
“Governor Dean has a solid base of people; we just need to make sure that base turns out,” he said. “The appeal has been consistently good, and I don’t think that’s changed. We’re fighting for the hearts and minds of the undecideds right now.”
Both Mr. Dean and Mr. Clark avoided talking about immigration in their speeches over the weekend.
Joseph Sweeney, a Republican who has run for Congress more than a half-dozen times, was circulating through the Tucson crowd with a petition to put a measure on Arizona’s ballot that would deny some state services to illegal aliens.
Mr. Sweeney said even in the crowd of Dean supporters, he expected to gain about 100 signatures.
Mr. Segal said Mr. Dean may have avoided the issue because he wanted to concentrate on his central campaign themes — in this case, being a Washington outsider.
“There is a whole sixth months of debate that will probably occur between the Democratic nominee and President Bush over immigration reform,” he said.