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US Presidential Contenders Take Early Steps Toward 2008 Campaign


The 2006 U.S. congressional elections are now history, but there is already plenty of activity in both parties looking ahead to the 2008 presidential campaign. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has an early preview from Washington.

Within days of the end of the 2006 congressional election campaign, Democrats and Republicans alike were already taking steps to run for president in 2008.

On the Republican side, Arizona Senator John McCain is setting up a committee to explore a presidential bid two years from now as is former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Giuliani spoke recently in New Hampshire, the state that traditionally hosts the first presidential primary and a key stepping stone to the White House.

"You have got to campaign, you know, person to person, and people get a chance to really evaluate you and they get a chance to figure out, what are your ideas, what do you stand for," he said.

A recent Gallup poll found Giuliani the top choice among Republicans for president in 2008. Giuliani won the support of 28 percent of voters while John McCain was second at 26 percent.

Other Republicans who have either taken steps to run for president or are considering a bid include Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback and California Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Many experts regard Senator McCain as the early favorite in the Republican field. But McCain faces doubts among some social conservatives who criticize his efforts to win over moderate and independent voters.

John Fortier, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, says McCain will be in the spotlight in the congressional debate over Iraq in the months ahead.

"You have [Senator] John McCain on the Republican side who is not quite the favorite of this bigger field, but will be in the Senate, will be on the Armed Services Committee and involved in some of these debates," hr said. "So I think you will see the presidential politics swirling in the congressional arena just because the players are there."

McCain is one of the few potential candidates for 2008 who advocates sending more U.S. troops into Iraq to quell the sectarian violence there.

Some experts believe Iraq could prove to be a political liability for the Republicans in 2008 much as it was in this year's congressional elections.

"If you stick with the basic strategy that he [President Bush] has been pursuing for three years in Iraq, which is that you have got a large number of troops kind of in the crossfire there, that could really put a damper on Republican prospects for 2008," said Judd Legum, who is with the Center for American Progress, a public policy research organization in Washington.

As for the Democratic field in 2008, most experts regard New York Senator Hillary Clinton as the favorite. But Clinton must overcome doubts by some Democrats that she is too polarizing a political figure to win the White House.

Clinton may also get a challenge from an unexpected newcomer to the national stage. First-term Illinois Senator Barack Obama has caused a stir within the Democratic Party by announcing he is considering a White House bid in 2008.

Some of his Democratic rivals question whether Obama has the necessary experience to run for president, noting he has served only two years in the Senate. Obama spoke to that issue during a recent appearance on NBC's Meet the Press.

"I am not sure anybody is ready to be president before they are president," he said. "Ultimately, I trust the judgment of the American people that in any election that they sort it through because, you know, we have a long and rigorous process."

Other Democrats who have either taken steps to run or are considering a White House bid include Senators Joseph Biden of Delaware, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Evan Bayh of Indiana, John Kerry of Massachusetts, and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa has announced he is forming an exploratory committee and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is also considering a run.

Analyst John Fortier predicts that two names will dominate the crowded Democratic presidential field in the months ahead.

"You still have a very strong candidate on the Democratic side in Hillary Clinton and then the very interesting revelation of Barack Obama hinting that he will throw his hat in the ring," he said. "I think that is going to keep a lot of the other people out of the news and those two will dominate."

Many experts believe that Democratic gains in the 2006 congressional elections indicate that voters will be looking for political moderates when they decide on presidential candidates in 2008.

"So, I think winners out of this campaign include [Massachusetts Republican Governor] Mitt Romney and [Illinois Democratic Senator] Barack Obama, people who can go out there as presidential candidates and offer some promise of transcending these tribal differences [between the parties] are going to have a little bit of a leg up [an advantage]," said Norman Ornstein, an author and longtime observer of U.S. politics.

Most of those considering a presidential bid are expected to make a final decision on running early next year. The presidential nominating caucuses and primaries begin in January of 2008.