Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says he will decide by October whether to join the already crowded field of Republican presidential contenders.  VOA National correspondent Jim Malone reports from Washington.

Gingrich spoke to the National Press Club and said if he runs he will focus on convincing Americans that the United States needs to do much more to win the global war on terror.

"I believe the challenges we face as a country are larger than the Cold War, larger than the Second World War and larger than the Great Depression," he said.

In the meantime, Gingrich is proposing that the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees agree to a series of weekly debates beginning in September of 2008 and leading up to the election in November, with each debate focused on a separate major issue.

"I believe most Americans would relish an adult conversation and are sick of the canned, consulted, commercialized process we are trapped in," he added.

A total of nine Republicans and eight Democrats are already in the race for their party nominations in a presidential election cycle that has begun earlier than any in history.

In addition to the possibility of Gingrich entering the race, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee is expected to formally announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination in September.

The first major test for Republican presidential hopefuls comes on Saturday in the Midwest state of Iowa.  Iowa Republicans are holding what is called a straw poll or test vote for the presidential contenders, which is considered by some as an indication of the candidate's popularity and organizational strength.

This year, however, top contenders including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Senator Thompson have chosen not to participate in the Iowa event.

Experts believe that could provide an opening for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has been openly courting social conservative voters who make up a key constituency within the Republican Party.

Iowa also plays an important role in the actual nominating process next year by hosting the first presidential caucus vote in mid-January, a key test for White House contenders from both parties.

The war in Iraq and the threat of terrorism already loom as major issues in next year's presidential and congressional elections.

Fred Barnes is editor of the Weekly Standard magazine.  He says Democrats will try to take advantage of the public's unhappiness over the war in Iraq while Republicans will attempt to position themselves as better able to protect national security.

"Republicans cannot stand having another election about the Iraq war, which was the case in 2006, and of course it was a calamitous defeat for Republicans, not only losing [control of] Congress, but losing a lot at the local and state level as well," Barnes said VOA's Issues in the News program.

The latest USA Today-Gallup poll has Senator Hillary Clinton of New York leading the Democratic field by a margin of 48 percent to 26 percent for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and 12 percent for former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

On the Republican side, the same poll had former Mayor Giuliani in the lead with 33 percent, followed by former Senator Thompson at 21 percent and Senator McCain with 16 percent.