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Never Too Early in US Presidential Politics

It has only been five months since President Bush was sworn in for a second four-year term. But believe it or not, some prominent politicians from both major political parties are contemplating a run for the White House in 2008.

There was a time in U.S. politics when candidates for president actually announced their intentions the same year as the election. Democrat John Kennedy, for example, formally launched his winning campaign in January 1960, the same year he narrowly defeated Republican Richard Nixon.

Now it is more common for candidates to formally announce their intentions one to two years in advance of an election.

Joseph Biden
Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware thought about running in last year's Democratic presidential primaries, but decided not to because he got too late a start in fundraising and campaigning.

So, Senator Biden has become the first candidate from either party to officially declare his intention to run in 2008. He spoke on CBS television.

"Well, I have to make a decision, arbitrarily I said, by the end of this year,” said Mr. Biden. “I have either got to get in this or get out of this. I am acting now as if I am running. My intention now is to seek the nomination."

Other potential candidates are taking a more traditional wait-and-see attitude about running three years from now.

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who challenged President Bush when he first ran in 2000, says he will wait until after the 2006 congressional elections before deciding on a run for the White House. He spoke to NBC television.

"The question is not whether you would like to be president or not. The question is do you think you can win and do you want to run? And none of those are clear to me and that is why I am going to wait a couple of years before making any decision," said Mr. McCain.

Senator McCain is one of a large group of Republicans considering a presidential run because President Bush is limited to two terms and cannot run again in 2008. The president's logical successor, Vice President Dick Cheney, has said he does not intend to run, leaving the battle for the Republican presidential nomination wide open.

Other Republicans said to be considering a run include Senators Bill Frist of Tennessee, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, George Allen of Virginia and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney have also indicated some interest.

The political jockeying for 2008 could complicate President Bush's efforts to move his second term agenda through the Congress, even among members of his own Republican Party.

Patrick Basham is a political analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington.

"And so the likes of Senator John McCain and others who look like they will challenge for the presidential nomination in 2008 will attempt to be loyal when it is to their advantage politically to be loyal, but they will attempt to also show an independent streak."

Opposition Democrats expect their own battle for the party's 2008 presidential nomination to be every bit as intense as the Republican race.

In addition to Senator Biden, Senators Hillary Clinton of New York, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Evan Bayh of Indiana are possible contenders, along with former North Carolina Senator John Edwards. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, and Virginia Governor Mark Warner are also considering bids.

Liberal groups with the Democratic Party are pressing for a candidate who will take on President Bush and his policies directly.

Robert Borosage is co-director of the group Campaign for America's Future.

"The opening for progressives now is very large,” he noted. “We can and will move to close what I consider to be the 'conviction gap' that so hurt Senator Kerry in the last presidential campaign, that sense that people knew where Republicans stood, but had no idea what Democrats were standing for."

Recent polls suggest Senator Hillary Clinton is the early favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 and she has been busy amassing a campaign war chest for her Senate re-election campaign next year.

But political experts caution that opinion polls three years before an election are often wrong and that it is not unusual for a relatively unknown candidate in the mold of Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton to emerge from the pack closer to the election.