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Democratic Presidential Contenders Promise Change

The Democrats running for president spoke to party officials in Virginia Friday and generally agreed on a need to take the United States in a new direction and to end the war in Iraq. What they disagreed on was who among them is best qualified to achieve those goals. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

The Democratic presidential contenders are furiously looking for support with a little more than a month to go before the first test of the 2008 election season, the Iowa presidential caucuses on January 3.

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois told Democratic National Committee members from across the country that he is the best choice to set the U.S. on a new course in foreign policy.

"When I am this party's nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq, or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran, or that I supported Bush-Cheney policies of not talking to leaders we do not like," he said.

Obama is leading in the latest polls among Democrats in Iowa, followed closely by Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

Clinton continues to lead in the national polls and many Democrats still regard her as the frontrunner for the party's presidential nomination.

Clinton was scheduled to address the Democratic committee gathering, but cancelled her appearance after the initial news broke about a hostage situation at one of her campaign offices in New Hampshire.

Obama and Clinton are in a three-way race in Iowa with former North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Edwards has adopted a more aggressive tone in recent weeks against Clinton, but generally saves his harshest criticism for President Bush and the Republicans.

"This president is dug in," he said. "The best I can tell, he is hiding in Cheney's bunker. As far as I am concerned, he ought to stay there. They ought to retire together, they ought to grow old together and they ought to get out of our way, because we are going to end this war!"

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is running fourth in many polls and hopes to break into the top tier of Democratic contenders with a strong showing in some of the early contest states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina.

"We need to show the American people that we not only share their passion and their purpose, but we also know how to bring the change that they so desperately want and that we so desperately need," he said.

Two other presidential contenders, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, also spoke at the meeting. Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut was busy campaigning in Iowa.

The Iowa presidential caucuses will kick off an intensive primary season in early January that will build toward February 5 of next year when more than 20 states will hold caucus or primary elections on the same day.