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US Presidential Contenders Enlist Celebrity Support to Push Ahead

The pace of the U.S. presidential campaign is intensifying with only three weeks to go until the first test, the Iowa presidential caucuses on January 3. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has the latest on the 2008 election campaign from Washington.

In the final weeks before the Iowa party caucuses, the presidential contenders are pulling out all the stops in an effort to sway voters.

Democratic Senator Barack Obama of Illinois drew large crowds in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, thanks to some help from popular television talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

"I am sick of politics as usual," she said. "It is the reason why, over the years, you have not seen many politicians on my show, because I have only got one hour."

Obama is in a tight battle in Iowa with Senator Hillary Clinton of New York. Clinton leads the Democratic field in national polls, but has seen her once formidable advantage slip in recent weeks in both Iowa and in New Hampshire. New Hampshire hosts the first presidential primary five days after the Iowa caucuses on January 8.

Clinton has gotten some campaign help from celebrities as well, especially her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who remains very popular with Democrats.

But Hillary Clinton says in the end, the voters will decide among the candidates, and not the celebrities who endorse them.

"Everybody wants to have his or her supporters speak out and try to persuade voters to support whoever their candidate is," she said. "But at the end of the day, it is a choice among those of us who are running."

The battle for the Republican Party's presidential nomination appears even more unpredictable at this stage.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee continues to surge in Iowa and in another early contest state, South Carolina.

Huckabee talked about his approach to foreign policy on Fox News Sunday.

"To act in such a way that people respect us and that people also realize that we are a great nation, not one that wants to push ourselves on others." he said.

Huckabee's rise may be coming at the expense of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He continues to lead among Republicans in most national polls, but trails behind in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Giuliani continues to emphasize a tough approach to terrorism and vows to take a hard line against the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability if elected. He was interviewed on NBC's Meet The Press program.

"Of course we do not want to use the military option," he said. "It would be dangerous. It would be risky. But I think it would be more dangerous and more risky if Iran did become a nuclear power."

The January 3 vote in Iowa begins a compressed month of caucuses and primaries that will climax on February 5, when more than 20 states will vote for their presidential preferences in both parties.

The nominees for both major parties will be confirmed at party conventions later in the year.