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Focus of US Presidential Race Shifts to Foreign Policy

The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto appears to have shifted the focus of the U.S. presidential race to national security and foreign policy issues. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Presidential contenders from both parties were trying to shore up their foreign policy credentials in the wake of the Bhutto assassination.

For former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the important thing is a president's ability to lead the country through crisis.

Romney is seeking the Republican Party's presidential nomination and appeared on NBC's Today program.

"What we want in a leader is a person who can actually guide America in a very challenging time," he said.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said the Bhutto killing was a reminder of the threat that terrorism still poses worldwide.

"We cannot wish it away. We have to face it and we have to face it by being on offense and being alert and being able to deal with it in many different places," he said.

Giuliani has made the war on terror a central focus of his campaign, as has Senator John McCain of Arizona.

McCain told The Early Show on CBS that despite the current political turmoil, Pakistan remains a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.

"Without their assistance in Afghanistan, Pakistan could be a haven for the Taliban as well as the Islamic extremists having greater influence in Pakistan itself," McCain said. "America's national security interests are heavily engaged here."

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee told MSNBC television that as president he would urge Pakistan to give the United States a freer hand in pursuing terrorists.

"One of the things we should do is to put more pressure on the Musharraf government to either take action against those terrorist bases or give us the kind of 'carte blanche' that we need to take action on the targets that we have discovered," he said.

Huckabee is leading the Republican field in Iowa, which kicks off the 2008 presidential election season with its presidential caucuses for both parties on January 3.

The Bhutto assassination also generated a lot comment from the Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. He spoke on CBS television.

"I would make sure that we let the Pakistani people, the vast majority of whom are moderate, know that we are going to have a long term Pakistani policy with significant economic assistance to them to give that moderate majority an opportunity," he said.

Biden is hoping voters will appreciate his years of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina is one of three Democrats near the top of the polls in Iowa.

Edwards emphasized presidential leadership in the wake of the Bhutto assassination.

"It is very important under these circumstances in these kind of times for America to show both strength and principle," he said.

Edwards is challenging the long-presumed Democratic frontrunner, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, who has been emphasizing her experience.

"I have known Benazir Bhutto for a dozen years and I knew her as a leader," she said.

For weeks now, Clinton has argued that her experience as first lady and senator give her an advantage over her chief rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

Obama counters that what the country needs is not another candidate with Washington experience, but someone who offers the country a change in direction and priorities.

"The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result," he said.

Many experts expect that the Bhutto assassination will cause some voters to refocus on the issues of terrorism, national security and foreign policy in general.

Public opinion polls suggest voters have been most concerned with the war in Iraq, economic concerns such as the rising cost of health care, and tightening U.S. borders to reduce illegal immigration.