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Less Well-Known Contenders Struggle in US Presidential Race


A total of 17 contenders, nine Republicans and eight Democrats, are running for president in 2008. The bulk of media attention has focused on the better-known candidates with names like Clinton, Obama, Giuliani and McCain. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports on some of the other contenders clamoring for attention in a crowded field of White House hopefuls.

Chances are you have never heard of Mike Gravel. Gravel was a U.S. senator from Alaska in the 1970s and gained national attention when he read aloud portions of a secret defense department report on the Vietnam War known as the Pentagon Papers on the Senate floor.

Gravel is one of eight Democrats running for president. He tries to make up for his lack of campaign funding and name recognition by emphasizing his passionate opposition to the war in Iraq.

"Let me tell you, there is only one thing worse than a solider dying in vain," he said. "It is more soldiers dying in vain."

Gravel is not alone is his relative anonymity.

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is also seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. He ran in 2004 as well.

Kucinich is trying to use his long record of opposing the Iraq effort to stir up liberal anti-war Democratic activists looking for a candidate who will quickly bring U.S. troops home after the 2008 election.

"Let us get real about this war," he said. "Let us get those troops home, and let us take a stand and do it now. Send a message to Congress now. We cannot wait until the next president takes office!"

Kucinich and Gravel are far back in the polls, as are better-known Democrats like Senators Joe Biden of Delaware, Chris Dodd of Connecticut and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

The frontrunners for the Democratic nomination at the moment are Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

Among Republicans, nine contenders are vying for their party's nomination, including Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

Though trailing well behind in the polls, Paul has developed a bit of a following, especially through the Internet, among voters who prefer a traditional conservative with a strong libertarian bent who opposes big government programs and wasteful spending.

Paul is also the only Republican contender who opposes the war in Iraq.

"I am suggesting very strongly that we should have a foreign policy of non-intervention," he said.

Some of the other Republican candidates are closely identified with specific issues. Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado has made stopping illegal immigration his number one priority.

Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas is using his long-shot presidential campaign to highlight his opposition to abortion.

"We talk about abortion, but abortion is a procedure," he said. "This is a life that we are talking about."

Other lesser-known Republican presidential contenders include former governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, as well as California Congressman Duncan Hunter.

At the top of the Republican field at the moment are former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

One reason the frontrunners in both parties get so much media attention is the large amounts of money they are able to raise, often tens of millions of dollars.

That puts the less well-known candidates at a huge disadvantage.

Leon Panetta is a former Democratic congressman who also served as former President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff.

"You know, I think one of the sad things that has happened over the last few races is the tremendous focus on fundraising," he noted. "So, I think you always in this country favor candidates who can raise a lot of money and have a strong organization."

While the likes of Ron Paul and Mike Gravel have developed small, but enthusiastic followings during the campaign, some experts believe the large number of candidates is a drawback for voters trying to decide who would make the best president in 2008.

Larry Sabato directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

"It is very difficult to sustain any kind of dialogue when you have ten candidates on a stage. It is absurd, everyone knows it is absurd, everyone is trying to bend over backwards to be fair. I would argue it is time to be unfair," he explained.

In fact, the Republican field could grow in the coming weeks. Former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee is expected to join the race by September and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia says he will make a decision about entering the race by October.

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