The 2008 race for president has drawn three official candidates and several more are expected to announce their intentions early in 2007. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington on the quickly expanding field of White House candidates.
Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich have already announced they are running for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.
It is likely that New York Senator Hillary Clinton will add her name to the list when she announces her plans early in the new year.
"And I worry that whoever the next president is, is going to face just a myriad of very difficult challenges," she said on NBC's Today program. "So, I am trying to approach this with a big dose of humility, number one, because it is going to be a hard job no matter who gets it."
Clinton is seen as the frontrunner or top contender in the Democratic field of candidates. But she could get an unexpectedly strong challenge from Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who says he will decide on a presidential bid early in 2007.
Obama recently gave a speech in the important early primary state of New Hampshire, a visit that drew media attention from around the world.
"People are very hungry for something new," he said.
Republican hopefuls have been active as well. California Congressman Duncan Hunter has already announced he is running, and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also made a stop in New Hampshire, where he praised the style of personal campaigning that puts presidential contenders in direct contact with voters.
"It requires you to talk to people," he said. "It requires you to meet people, talk to them, tell them your ideas. It takes some of the spin out of politics."
Political experts say there are reasons for all this early presidential campaign activity.
"I think there is a tendency now to say, well, the early bird catches the worm, we have got to start early, and if you start early, who knows what is going to happen," said Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes an independent political newsletter in Washington. "In addition, neither party will have a sitting vice president who is an heir-apparent. There is not an heir-apparent in either party. There are certainly frontrunners in both parties, but there is not quite the heir-apparent that we usually have in at least one party."
Recent polls suggest Senator Clinton leads among Democratic Party contenders, while former Mayor Giuliani is vying for the Republican lead with Arizona Senator John McCain.
But analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the frontrunners could easily stumble on the way to the nomination.
"Well, I would say Senator McCain is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, just as Senator Clinton is for the Democratic nomination," he added. "I do not think they have the nomination sewn up. There are lots of other candidates who are running. There could easily be surprises, so these are going to be big fields [of candidates] in both parties and I think there is certainly a lot to talk about for the next two years."
Other Democrats expected to enter the race include former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, and possibly Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee.
On the Republican side, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has taken steps to mount a presidential campaign. Others considering a White House bid include Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and former congressman and House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.
Political analyst John Fortier, of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, says the Democrats might have an early advantage in the 2008 battle for the White House. But Fortier also says, do not count out the Republicans.
"I think the race is pretty wide open in 2008, as to both parties, because you have taken some of the air out of the balloon to the opposition to Bush," he noted. "You have Bush and Cheney not running on the ticket and you have a divided government. I think Democrats have a very good chance, but I think Republicans, with the right candidate, certainly also do. I think it is a pretty wide open race on both sides."
The actual presidential nominating process begins in January of 2008 with early caucus or primary elections in Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada.