The already crowded field of U.S. Republican presidential candidates could grow in the months ahead. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

There is no shortage of presidential contenders in either party at the moment, a reflection of the fact that the 2008 election is shaping up as the most wide-open race in many decades.

Among those who could decide on a White House bid in the coming months is Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel.

Hagel told a home state news conference Monday that he is putting off a decision on his political future until later in the year so he can focus on the war in Iraq and other pressing issues before Congress.

Many Republicans had expected Hagel to announce a presidential bid. But Hagel says he could still join the field of Republican contenders later in the year.

"I admire each of them for their willingness to put themselves on the line and pursue their strong beliefs and ideals," he said. "I believe the political currents in America are more unpredictable today than at any time in modern history."

Hagel is known as one of the most aggressive Republican critics of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq.

In addition to Senator Hagel, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson is considering a presidential run next year.

Thompson told Fox News Sunday that he is leaving the door open to joining the Republican presidential field later in the year.

"I am going to wait and see how it pans out, see how they do, how it develops," he said. "A lot of people think it is late already. I do not really think it is, although the rules of the game have changed somewhat."

Thompson is well known for his acting roles in films and on television where he plays a district attorney in the NBC series Law and Order.

"He is a conservative," said Jonathan Martin, who is with a political Web site called The "His record in the Senate bares that out, so he would certainly run to the right. But he would enjoy a significant advantage in that he is almost a household name."

At the moment, 10 Republicans have either declared they are running for president or have formed exploratory committees to raise money and broaden their name recognition.

Public opinion polls indicate former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Senator John McCain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are leading the Republican field, along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich says he will decide whether to run by September.