SAN MATEO — San Mateo County Democrats will gather in San Mateo this weekend for a presidential straw poll and fundraiser, as the local Democratic Party prepares for California's new presidential primary date in February.

The star attraction of Sunday's event, which is expected to raise more than $25,000, will be U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, the only presidential candidate who has agreed to appear in person. Representatives for four other candidates, including frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., are scheduled to speak on their behalf.

The San Mateo County Democratic Party is putting on the unofficial poll, the results of which will be released Sunday right after the vote to galvanize Peninsula Democrats, recruit volunteers and build up financial reserves, said Andrew Byrnes, chair of the county Democratic Party.

The party conclave, which begins at 2 p.m. at the San Mateo County Event Center, also reflects the elevated national importance of California's presidential primary, which was moved from June to March for the 1996 election. This year a new law advanced the primary to Feb. 5.

"I think if we had our usual June primary, we'd be playing our usual second fiddle here in California and there wouldn't be (these) opportunities," said Byrnes.

Kucinich was unavailable for comment Monday, but in a statement he said he's "taking the San Mateo poll seriously" and chided his opponents for sending "surrogates" rather than showing up in person.


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"Because of its earlier primary date, California is in an extremely strong position to help determine who the next president of the United States will be," said Kucinich, who is currently running fifth among Democratic contenders with 3 percent of the vote, according to polls conducted by Rasmussen Reports.

One of the representatives scheduled to speak at the meeting is state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, who supports former Sen. John Edwards, D-North Carolina. Yee said he hopes the straw poll will raise public awareness about the state's new primary calendar.

California voters actually have two primary elections coming up in 2008. Though the presidential primary vote will take place in February, the primary election for state races is scheduled for June 3.

Byrnes said about 1,000 people are expected to attend the event. Tickets are still available and admission is $25.

Votes will be cast on paper ballots and counted by hand.

Though some attendees already have a favorite candidate, others are undecided. Barry Kendall, a member of the Peninsula Young Democrats, plans to arrive with a group of about 10 friends who, like him, have not settled on their choice.

Kendall calls the group "the undecided posse."

"Those who want to try to persuade us — this will be their opportunity," Kendall said.