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    US 2008 Presidential Field Expands Quickly

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    Two more presidential contenders are moving ahead with plans to join the 2008 race for the White House this week. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has taken the first step toward seeking the Republican presidential nomination while Senator Joe Biden is expected to formally join the field of Democratic candidates already in the race. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has the latest on the early campaigning from Washington.

    The woman seen as the frontrunner in the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination is New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

    She recently made her first trip as a candidate to the early contest state of Iowa.

    "I know there are people who either say or wonder, would we ever elect a woman president? And I do not think we will know until we try," she said. "And I am going to try and with your help, I think we can do it."

    Senator Clinton has been pressed to defend her vote in favor of the war in Iraq back in 2002, a war the vast majority of Democrats now see as a mistake.

    "She [Clinton] is getting a lot of publicity from Iraq, not all of it favorable," said John Harris, editor in chief of the Politico, a new Website devoted to U.S. politics, who spoke on CBS television. "She has made clear that she is opposed to President Bush's proposed troop buildup, but a lot of activists in her own party would like her to be more assertive, more aggressive in an anti-war stand."

    The Iowa caucuses will initiate the 2008 presidential selection process about a year from now. Contenders from both major parties will be spending a lot of time in Iowa in the months ahead and in other early contest states like New Hampshire, which will host the first presidential primary.

    At the moment, the Democratic race seems to be shaping up as a battle between Senator Clinton and Barack Obama of Illinois, the only African-American in the Senate.

    Obama is expected to formally announce his candidacy on February 10. As part of his campaign, Obama recently proposed an expansion of health care benefits to cover all Americans within six years.

    "America can no longer afford inaction," he said. "That is not who we are as a country. That is not who we are as a people. That has never been the story of our nation's improbable march toward progress."

    Obama is in his first term in the Senate and some experts question whether he has enough experience to be president.

    "The experience issue cuts both ways," said Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "On the one hand, people may consider Barack Obama too inexperienced to have the awesome power of the presidency. On the other hand, in running for the office, it actually helps to have little experience because there is so little to attack."

    Several other Democrats are hoping to disrupt the conventional wisdom of the moment that says the race is between Clinton and Obama.

    Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards leads the Democratic field in several public opinion polls in Iowa, and veteran Democratic senators like Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut are hoping to break through to the public as well.

    In addition, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is mounting a bid for the nomination along with former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

    One Democrat who will not join the race is Senator John Kerry, the party's 2004 presidential nominee who narrowly lost the election to President Bush. Kerry said recently he will seek re-election to the Senate instead.

    Despite the wealth of experienced Democratic candidates, experts like Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution say it will be difficult for the others to overcome the media attention being given to Senators Clinton and Obama.

    "His [Obama] entering it becomes a two person race," he said. "It becomes Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and that is the way the story will be framed and an awful lot of pretty good people, because it is a pretty good bench as far as other candidates, United States Senators and governors, really will not have much oxygen. They will be there in case Hillary or Barack slip on a banana peel."

    The Republican field is starting to look equally crowded. In addition to former Governor Huckabee, others who have taken steps to run in 2008 include Arizona Senator John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

    In addition, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and Congressmen Duncan Hunter of California and Tom Tancredo of Colorado have also said they are in the hunt for the Republican presidential nomination.

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