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    McCain Enters US 2008 Presidential Race

    Arizona Senator John McCain has made it official.  He will seek the Republican Party's presidential nomination next year.  VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has more on McCain's bid for the White House from Washington.

    It was no surprise that John McCain announced he is running for president, but the forum was unexpected.  McCain did it on the Late Show program with David Letterman on CBS television.

    "I am announcing that I will be a candidate for President of the United States," he said.

    McCain says he will make a formal announcement speech in April.

    The Arizona senator has been considered the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination ever since President Bush won re-election in 2004.  Mr. Bush cannot run for a third term, so the 2008 race has prompted large fields of candidates in both major political parties.

    Despite his frontrunner status, McCain has trailed in some recent public opinion polls.  The latest survey by The Washington Post and ABC News showed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani leading for the Republican nomination with the support of 44 percent of those polled, compared to 21 percent for McCain.  The same survey one month earlier also had Giuliani ahead, but by the smaller margin of 34 percent to 27 percent.

    University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato has been paying close attention to the polls.

    "McCain needs some momentum," he said.  "He started out this campaign with a much better chance than he appears to have now.  For the nomination, he is now trailing Rudy Giuliani.  For the general election, he is saddled with President Bush's Iraq policy that he has embraced."

    McCain has emerged as perhaps the foremost Republican supporter of President Bush's troop surge in Iraq.

    He recently defended the new military strategy on the Don Imus program on MSNBC.

    "And those who want to leave, just withdraw, I think they have an obligation to tell people what they think is going to happen," he said.  "I know what is going to happen.  It is going to be chaos and genocide and it will spread throughout the region and we will be involved again in one way or another."

    Some analysts believe McCain is taking a political gamble with his high-profile support of the president's Iraq policy, given the opposition evident in public opinion polls.

    Stuart Rothenberg publishes an independent political newsletter in Washington.

    "You listen to Senator McCain and he will emphasize that he disagreed with the policy early on in term of the U.S. not having an enough troops," he explained.  "He thought [former Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld was inept and incompetent, the wrong person, and he will continue to be critical of how the war was handled.  But overall, his support for the president is pretty strong on the war and increasingly he is identified with it."

    In addition to his stand on Iraq, McCain also has a challenge in winning votes among conservative Christian voters, an important constituency within the Republican Party.

    McCain was critical of some religious conservative leaders during his 2000 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, when he lost out to Texas Governor George Bush.

    But in recent months, McCain has tried to mend fences with religious conservatives and is emphasizing his generally conservative voting record on social issues like abortion.

    But analyst Charles Cook says some conservatives remain wary of McCain.  Cook is editor of the Cook Political Report and he recently appeared on the C-SPAN public affairs TV network.

    "A lot of these folks were never terribly comfortable with McCain, even though he really voted with them the vast majority of the time," he said.  "But they always really doubted, 'Is he one of us?'"

    In addition to McCain and Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is in the running for the Republican nomination.  Others who have either formally announced or who are considering a bid include Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, California Congressman Duncan Hunter, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore.

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