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Iowa Governor Becomes First To Launch US Presidential Bid

Iowa's Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack, officially became the first presidential candidate for 2008 on Thursday. Several other potential candidates have either taken themselves out of the running for the White House two years from now or will announce their intentions soon. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Tom Vilsack is completing his second term as Iowa's governor and though little known nationally, he has launched an underdog bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008.

"Our country today needs a president who will lead bold change and has the courage of his convictions and I intend to be that president," he said.

Vilsack does not have the name recognition of other top Democrats who may contend for the nomination, including Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

Vilsack told a crowd in his home state that he would focus his campaign on improving education and health care and cutting back on America's dependence on imports of foreign oil.

"Our national security has been compromised and put at risk by a national government that is fiscally irresponsible and by a country that has grown far too dependent on oil, foreign oil from foreign countries, some of which despise us, harbor terrorists, but gladly take our money," he added.

Political experts view Tom Vilsack as a long shot in what could become a very crowded field of presidential candidates from both parties.

Dotty Lynch is a political analyst at CBS News. She says Vilsack is trying to follow in the footsteps of other state governors who have run for president in recent years.

"Governor Vilsack is not exactly a household name right now," she noted. "But he feels that in the tradition of people like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, who started with very low recognition, he is a governor and that has worked well in the past few years."

Vilsack's announcement is the first official declaration of candidacy for the 2008 election. But several other potential contenders have already taken steps to run, including Senator Joe Biden of Delaware on the Democratic side and Senator John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on the Republican side.

Other potential candidates have already taken themselves out of the 2008 race, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Republican Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.

For the first time since 1952, neither party will field either a sitting president or vice president as contenders for the White House.

The polls suggest Hillary Clinton may be the strongest candidate in the Democratic presidential field and that John McCain is leading the pack on the Republican side.

But University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato says both parties can expect wide-open nomination battles when the process begins early in 2008.

"And as a result, it is an open race on both sides and we are going to see large fields [of candidates]," he noted. "Those fields are not as coalesced as some commentators have suggested and the so-called frontrunners may find that their position is shakier than they ever imagined."

Governor Vilsack may have one slight advantage over his rivals. His home state of Iowa begins the presidential nominating process with its party caucuses in January of 2008.