Americans will not elect their next president for 22 months, but already the 2008 presidential campaign seems to have reached a fever pitch. In the last few days alone, three candidates, including Senator Hillary Clinton, have announced plans to run for the White House next year. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has a look at the widening presidential field and why so many candidates are getting in the race so early.

There was little doubt Senator Clinton would enter the race for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. But her announcement in a video on her Website with little advance fanfare did come as a bit of surprise.

She said, "You know, after six years of George Bush, it is time to renew the promise of America, our basic bargain, that no matter who you are or where you live, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can build a good life for yourself and your family."

Senator Clinton announced her bid just days after Illinois Senator Barack Obama established his own presidential campaign committee.

The latest Democrat to join the race is New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He told ABC's This Week program that he can compete with his better known Democratic rivals.

"I will outwork anybody," he said. "I am a governor. Governors have good records in being elected president because we balance budgets, we deal with health care and education."

Richardson has served in Congress, in the Clinton cabinet as energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations.

University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato says Richardson's experience could be an asset if he can get noticed among the other high-profile Democratic candidates like Senators Clinton and Obama and former Senator John Edwards.

He said, "Bill Richardson may not be at the top of the polls, but he is a very serious candidate for president. He has probably the most impressive resume of any candidate in either party."

Senator Clinton may have moved up her timetable to announce because of all the recent attention surrounding Barack Obama.

Obama is only in his first term in the Senate, but he has created excitement among Democratic activists looking for a fresh face to challenge for the White House in 2008.

University of Maryland political expert Ron Walters said, "Senator Obama is a charismatic young man and he is telegenic, he is fresh in terms of his appearance on the political scene and he is intelligent. He is kind of a diverse version of America."

Obama is considered the first African-American candidate with a realistic chance of winning the White House, while Senator Clinton is hoping to become the first woman elected president. In addition, Governor Richardson's Hispanic heritage is a strong draw for the increasing number of Latino voters in the country.

Other Democrats who have either formally announced they are running or who have taken initial steps include Senators Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

With the election still a little less than two years away, there has already been an extraordinary amount of campaign activity by candidates in both parties.

Experts say the contenders need to raise as much money as possible early in the process to be seen as a viable candidate, and also to improve their name recognition if they are not well known by the public.

In addition, 2008 will be the first election since 1952 that will not feature either a sitting president or vice president running for the White House.

Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes an independent political newsletter in Washington, said, "There is no heir-apparent in either party. There are certainly frontrunners in both parties, but there is not quite the heir-apparent that we usually have in at least one party."

Republican candidates have been equally busy in getting into the 2008 race. The latest is Kansas Senator Sam Brownback.

He said, "So it is with sincere humility and a determination to do good that I declare my candidacy for President of the United States!"

Brownback hopes to appeal to conservative Republican voters, but is also known for his efforts to combat AIDS, genocide and poverty in Africa.

Other Republicans who are either running or who are expected to jump into the race include Arizona Senator John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Duncan Hunter of California and Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

Pollster Celinda Lake says a recent survey found Democrats and Republicans generally favorable toward the major candidates in their respective parties.

"81 percent have a positive view of Giuliani, 70 percent have a positive view of McCain. Mitt Romney is much less well known," she said. "On the Democratic side, 85 percent like Hillary Clinton, 71 percent like John Edwards and 65 percent like Barack Obama."

As the various candidates fight for recognition and fundraising, their positions on the war in Iraq will also come under scrutiny.

American University expert James Thurber says Iraq's impact on the upcoming presidential race is one of the great mysteries of the 2008 campaign.

"The war will be the issue for everybody and there are no simple answers. So will Iraq affect the election? Yes. Do we know how? No, at this point," he said.

The nominating process for both parties begins next January with the Iowa presidential caucuses.