The war in Iraq continues to dominate the early debate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign. Democratic candidates in particular differ on what they would do in Iraq, as we hear from VOA national correspondent Jim Malone in Washington.
Iraq has been a top issue for two leading Democratic candidates in recent days, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
Obama officially entered the presidential race on Saturday. Obama is trying to become the first African-American president and drew large crowds in his home state of Illinois and in the early presidential contest state of Iowa.
On Iraq, Obama favors withdrawing U.S. troops from the conflict by March of next year.
"America, it is time to start bringing our troops home. It is time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war," he said.
Like Obama, Hillary Clinton opposes President Bush's troop surge in Iraq. But she has so far not endorsed a timeline to withdraw U.S. troops.
During a recent campaign swing, Clinton was pressed by voters in the early contest state of New Hampshire to explain her vote for the war in 2002, when she and 28 other Senate Democrats authorized President Bush to use military force in Iraq.
Clinton is now trying to win over anti-war Democrats, but so far has not met their demands for an apology for her 2002 vote to support the war.
"If I had been president in 2003, I never would have started this war. And if it is still going on when I am president in 2009, I will end it," she said.
Recent public-opinion polls show Clinton the top choice among Democrats for the White House in 2008, with Obama and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards trailing behind. Several other Democrats are in the race, but so far have not been able to make much of an impact in either the polls or in fundraising.
Political experts say that of all the Democratic candidates, Obama is the one, at the moment, who appears to be inspiring Democratic Party activists.
Charles Cook, who publishes a political newsletter in Washington, spoke on the C-Span public affairs TV network.
"He [Obama] brings an excitement, an energy, a passion and brings in some new folks who have not been active in the Democratic Party. To me, anybody who is in double digits in the polls, you have to take seriously," said Cook.
Presidential candidates from both major political parties are already spending a lot of time in the early contest states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in hopes of gaining an advantage when the voting begins next January.
In the Democratic Party, anti-war activists could play a significant role in the early caucuses and primaries.
"Oh, the grassroots, a certain group of Democrats are very strongly against it, have been all along," said Stephen Hess, a political analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "There is a progressive movement in the United States. It is a minor, modest movement, even in the Democratic Party. But they do tend to vote Democratic and therefore have more influence in the Democratic Party, and consequently the Democratic leadership has to listen to them in a very special way."
In addition to Clinton, Obama and Edwards, other Democrats in the race include Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, retired General Wesley Clark and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel.