The 2008 U.S. presidential campaign is off to an early and intense start. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has been watching the candidates and has a report from Washington.
The next presidential election is still more than a year and half away, but contenders from both major political parties are already campaigning hard for the White House.
This comes as no surprise to Craig Crawford, a political analyst for Congressional Quarterly magazine.
"It is a power vacuum and power abhors a vacuum, so there is such a rush to fill it because of that, I believe, and also the media has been, surprising to me, most eager to cover the campaign this early. I think that also fueled it," he said.
Democrats believe 2008 will be the year they reclaim the White House after eight years of President Bush.
New York Senator Hillary Clinton is the frontrunner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination and Clinton has made ending the war in Iraq her top priority.
"If he (President Bush) does not extricate us from Iraq before he leaves office, when I am president I will, beginning on the day when I am inaugurated," she said.
The eight declared Democratic candidates oppose the war but differ on how quickly U.S. troops should leave Iraq.
Illinois Senator Barack Obama is currently running second in public opinion polls behind Senator Clinton.
"Unless we bring our troops home and get them out of Iraq, we are not going to be able to perform the kinds of changes here in America that are required," he said.
Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards is running third, along with former Vice President Al Gore.
Gore has repeatedly said he will not run for president.
Analyst Craig Crawford says that leaves Hillary Clinton in a strong position at the moment.
"I think the default position in this campaign says that Hillary Clinton is the next president," he said. "I am not saying that would not change, but sitting here today I would say the default position is that she has got everything in place, not only to win her nomination, but win the presidency. And so I think now the campaign is going to be about testing that hypothesis."
On the Republican side, ten contenders are vying for their party's nomination. Nine of them support the president's Iraq policy.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani continues to lead in the polls, largely because many Republicans see him as a strong leader on national security given his performance in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"If we are going to wave the white flag, and if we are going to give them a schedule of our retreat and force the United States into that position, well, then it seems to me you are going on defense," he said.
But Giuliani has come under fire from his Republican rivals who question his conservative credentials, especially on social issues like abortion, gun control and gay rights.
Larry Sabato directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"Giuliani will get nominated if the Republican electorate decides that the election has to be about terrorism and national security," said Sabato. "If the Republican electorate starts focusing on social issues like abortion, Giuliani is cooked and done."
Arizona Senator John McCain trails Giuliani for the nomination. McCain has emerged as the most vocal supporter of President Bush's new security strategy in Iraq, even though polls show most Americans oppose the war.
McCain made his case during the recent Republican debate in South Carolina broadcast by the Fox News Channel.
"I believe the Maliki government has got to improve," he said. "It has got to pass certain laws that we all know about. But we must succeed and we cannot fail. And I will be the last man standing if necessary."
Two other notable Republicans, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, are considering joining the Republican field.
Analyst Craig Crawford says there may be room for a candidate that can appeal to social conservatives, a key constituency group within the Republican Party.
"I think there will be a market come late summer or early fall for some new faces, particularly on the Republican side, it seems," he said. "Republican voters are still searching."
Thompson could join the race within a matter of weeks while Gingrich says he will decide in September.