White House Contenders quick to take 2008 plunge

WASHINGTON – With the congressional elections out of the way, potential competitors in the 2008 White House race are moving quickly to get a head start on what could be a wide open and wildly expensive campaign.

Two of the biggest names among Republican presidential hopefuls, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, could not wait even a week after their party’s election thumping to signal their presidential intentions.

McCain, who challenged George W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000, said during the weekend he planned to form a committee to explore a presidential bid. Giuliani’s campaign team said on Monday it already had formed one, filing the papers with New York state officials on Friday.

Iowa’s Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack jumped in the race last week, less than 48 hours after his party seized control of both houses of the U.S. Congress for the first time in 12 years.

McCain, Giuliani and Vilsack are the front edge of an expected flurry of announcements that by mid-January could see about a dozen contenders in each party leap into the race to replace the outgoing Bush.

“If you know you are going to run, there is no point in hanging back,” said Republican political consultant Whit Ayres. “The New Hampshire primary is just a year away — if you’re getting in, you better get up and running fast.” The announcement by McCain, who has put together campaign organizations in many of the states with early nominating contests, was widely expected. The intentions of Giuliani, who has been less active in early organizing, had been less clear.

Giuliani’s campaign team said the committee was simply an opening move designed to keep his options open, with a final decision still to come. “This filing affords him the opportunity to raise money and put together an organization to assist him in making his decision,” Giuliani adviser Anthony Carbonetti said.

WIDE OPEN RACE: For the first time since 1952, the White House race will not feature an incumbent president or a sitting vice president, making it the most wide open in decades and encouraging big fields on both sides.

But a successful contender will need lots of money — by some estimates as much as $60 million — before the first votes are cast in each party’s nomination battle in January 2008.

The nominating contests also come earlier and faster this cycle, with Democrats jamming four key contests into the first month of 2008. California, a big and expensive state for candidates, also is considering moving its primary earlier in the process.

“Everybody is moving very quickly and I think for good reason,” Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, another potential contender, said on Fox News. “I’ll go back home, I’ll think about it.”

McCain and Giuliani, who have wide appeal among independents but must win over conservative activists who dominate early Republican contests, have been at the top of White House preference polls for Republicans in 2008. Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California jumped in the race in October. Other Republicans pondering bids include Frist, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

For Democrats, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been the early leader in polls. Other Democrat senators considering runs include Barack Obama of Illinois, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Joseph Biden of Delaware and John Kerry of Massachusetts, who was the party’s 2004 nominee. Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who was Kerry’s running mate, and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson also are potential candidates.

Two other Democrats, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold, have announced they will not run.