JEFFERSON CITY -Seventeen presidential candidates filed to compete in the Missouri's Feb. 3 presidential primary before the Nov. 18 deadline.
"The Missouri primary is one of the first primaries after the critical New Hampshire and Iowa primaries and this creates a special interest for the candidates," said Betsy Byers, co-director of the Secretary of State's election division.
This year's primary will be the third presidential primary held in Missouri. The other two took place in 1988 and 2000. In 1996, a law was passed that permanently established a presidential primary election in Missouri versus the previously practiced caucus system.
In a caucus system, party members must attend a meeting where they vote to decide which candidates receive state delegates for the national convention, whereas in a primary system all eligible voters can participate.
"The caucus system didn't invite voter participation. The primary system that will allow people's voices to be heard," said Jim Kottmeyer, executive director for the Missouri Democratic Party.
President Bush is expected to make his first Missouri campaign appearance giving a speech in St.Louis on Jan. 5, according to Paul Sloca, communications director for the Missouri Republican Party.
Bush will challenge businessmen Bill Wyatt of California and Blake Ashby of St.Louis. Wyatt, a self-described liberal Republican, is campaigning with the slogan "No New Wars." Ashby, executive vice-president of mpXML - a meat & poultry data standards organization, opposes taxes and federal government programs, faulting them with causing the nation's poor economy and expensive health care system.
All nine Democratic candidates participants in the national Democratic campiagn debates have filed for the primary: Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, civil rights activist Al Sharpton, and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.
On Missouri's February ballot, they will be joined by Fern Penna and Lyndon LaRouche.
The candidates will compete for delegates who will be proportionally assigned to candidates based on the percentage of votes received. Candidates with less than 15% of the votes will not receive any delegates.
"The Democratic primary results will be a bit skewed because this is Gephardt's home state, but we expect all the candidates to mobilize strong opposition campaigns," Gardner said.
Three Libertarian candidates, radio host Gary Nolan of Ohio, N. Ruben Perez of Texas, and musician Jeffrey Diket of New Orleans have also filed.
$3.7 million was allotted in the Missouri state budget for the primary. Primaries in Kansas, Colorado, and Utah have been canceled due to cost.