Long ignored this campaign season, Mississippi suddenly finds itself the focus of intense campaigning as the state prepares for its role as the only state with presidential primaries next week.

Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York will speak Thursday at the state Democratic Party’s Jefferson Jackson Hamer Day Dinner. The $125-a-ticket event begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Canton Multipurpose and Equine Center.

‘‘There is no other place she’d rather be,’’ said Clinton campaign staffer Burns Strider, a Mississippi native.

Campaign staffers for Clinton’s Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, said Obama plans to appear in Mississippi before the primary, but plans had not been set.

Former President Bill Clinton will campaign for his wife Friday in Hattiesburg, Meridian and Tupelo.

Clinton is scheduled to speak at noon in Graham Gymnasium on the Meridian Community College campus. Although the appearance is open to the public, doors will not open until noon, according to college officials.

Mississippi has 40 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, 33 of whom will be awarded proportionally during the primary. Seven are ‘‘superdelegates’’ who can decide which presidential candidate to support.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona wrapped up the Republican nomination Tuesday with primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island. Brad White, executive director of the state GOP, said he doesn’t know whether McCain will appear in Mississippi, but the campaign has contacted the state party to get information about buying ads.

‘‘I know they’re getting ready to have a presence here,’’ White said.

On Wednesday, former Gov. Ray Mabus and Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree held a news conference at the Obama state headquarters in Jackson to criticize remarks Hillary Clinton made about Mississippi months ago.

In October, the Des Moines Register quoted her talking about Iowa and Mississippi being the only states that have never sent a woman to Congress or to the Governor’s Mansion.

‘‘How can Iowa be ranked with Mississippi? That’s not what I see. That’s not the quality. That’s not the communitarianism, that’s not the openness I see in Iowa,’’ Hillary Clinton told the newspaper then — a remark that prompted immediate criticism from Mississippi Republicans.

On Wednesday, Mabus said Mississippi should elect more women to office. But he said Hillary Clinton insulted the state.

‘‘It’s kind of clear what she was doing. She was trying to curry favor with Iowa because there was an election going up there,’’ Mabus said. ‘‘It’s also clear that she didn’t expect ever to have to be in Mississippi.’’

Gloria Williamson is a former state senator and former Mississippi Democratic Party chairwoman. She is now a volunteer for the Clinton campaign. At the state Capitol Wednesday, Williamson said Clinton had spoken the truth.

‘‘I think what she was trying to say was how hard it is to get a female elected in this state. And I guess she would be right. It is not easy. And I think the women of this state realize it is not easy,’’ Williamson said. ‘‘Speaking for one who has run, I remember a one time a man stopped and said, ’Gal, what you think you going to do up there?’ You try to do what a man can do but you’ve got to work twice as hard, and Hillary’s one who should know.’’

AP-CS-03-05-08 1710EST

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