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Economy, Health Care Are Top Domestic Issues for US Voters

Public opinion polls show the economy, health care and illegal immigration are the domestic issues Americans care about most in the 2008 presidential race. VOA's Cindy Saine takes a look at the various domestic issues resonating with voters.

As voters get ready to choose their presidential candidates, the housing market is weakening, oil prices are soaring and the stock market is volatile. Opinion polls show voters are worried about the economy, saying it is the top domestic issue on their minds.

Karlyn Bowman monitors public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute.

"There is a lot of talk in American politics about our economy may be heading into a recession," she said. "Certainly the public is very pessimistic on that score, with about 70 percent of Americans saying that we are heading into a recession."

Polls show the other domestic issue voters mention most often is health care. More than 40 million Americans have no health insurance at all, while millions more pay high insurance premiums for limited services.

The top two Democratic candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, have been vying to distinguish their own health care plans from their rivals. Clinton touted her record at a televised debate in Nevada.

"I have a universal health care plan that covers everyone," she said. "I've been fighting this battle against the special interest for more than 15 years, and I am proud to fight this battle."

Senator Obama says mandating health care is not the answer, as he lays out his plan.

"What I see are people who would love to have health care," he said. "They desperately want it. But the problem is they can't afford it, which is why we have put forward legislation. We've put forward a plan that makes sure that it is affordable to get health care that is as good as the health care that I have as a member of Congress."

Among Republicans, illegal immigration is a pressing issue. During a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney accused former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani of welcoming illegal immigrants into the city, calling it a "sanctuary city." Giuliani hit back at Romney, accusing him of hiring illegal immigrants.

"There is even a sanctuary mansion," he said. "At his own home illegal immigrants were being employed."

Governor Romney was visibly angered by the personal charge.

"Mayor, you know better than that," he replied.

However, Romney has since fired the landscaping firm he had employed at his home.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, whose popularity has surged in recent weeks, has taken a different tack on illegal immigration. He fended off an attack by Romney who criticized him for supporting a proposed scholarship program in Arkansas that would have included the children of illegal immigrants.

"In all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did. We're a better country than that," he said.

Polls show most American voters are conflicted in their own minds about illegal immigration, as analyst Karlyn Bowman explains.

"Voters are of two minds about the immigration issue," she noted. "They are very concerned about protecting our borders. At the same time, they don't want to be especially punitive. They believe that immigrants have added a lot to the country and that they work very hard and that they take jobs that a lot of Americans won't take."

Polls show the issues of national security and terrorism have receded somewhat since the 2004 presidential election, when they were central to the campaign. Now, voters will have to decide which candidate best represents them on the issues they care most about.