Iowa's religious conservatives, a powerful force in Republican presidential politics for two decades, could be kingmakers again in 2008 — but it is unclear which candidate will win their support.
Like many social conservatives around the United States, where religion plays a major role in politics, Christian activists in Iowa have doubts about the top Republican presidential contenders and have yet to rally around a candidate.
But the crucial role played by Iowa, the state that kicks off the White House race with the first nominating contest scheduled for January 2008, makes the state's religious conservatives particularly influential.
Joe Biden on Friday questioned how his Democratic presidential rivals could skip a debate involving the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Delaware senator, who will participate in a New Hampshire debate on Sunday, is one of two candidates signed onto a fall debate on Fox News and the sole person who has agreed to an Iraq-only debate next week.
Fred Thompson, a Hollywood actor turned White House contender, had a reputation while a U.S. senator of being frustrated with the slow-moving legislative process and preferring dining with friends to late-night congressional sessions.
But the 64-year-old Republican, who retired from the Senate in 2003 after serving eight years, was also seen as a charismatic speaker who exuded confidence, battled government waste and abuse and backed campaign finance reform.
In Nevada, a state of mostly desert, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is quickly nurturing a grass-roots campaign, with a rally on Thursday showing such efforts are generating enthusiasm.
More than 3,500 people filled a Reno park to hear the 45-year-old senator from Illinois. At a press conference after the rally, he talked about the importance of attracting ordinary voters back into the political process.
"My campaign is bringing in new people. It is galvanizing people," Obama said.
Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards on Thursday called for a federal investigation into possible antitrust violations by the oil industry and criticized oil companies for raising gas prices.
"There's absolutely no justification for the gas companies to be as profitable as they are and have the taxpayers subsidizing the industry," Edwards said.
Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are abandoning the middle ground for positions on Iraq and immigration that cater to their parties' fringes â€” the latest example of polarization trumping moderation in Washington.
Democrats are lurching to the left on Iraq. Republicans are moving right on immigration. Neither shift is a surprise; the two-party system encourages presidential candidates to appeal to each side's most fervent voters during the nomination fights.
Lately it seems all the leading presidential candidates are discussing their religious and moral beliefs â€” even when they'd rather not. Indeed, seven years after George W. Bush won the presidency in part with a direct appeal to conservative religious voters â€” even saying during a debate that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher â€” the personal faith of candidates has become a very public part of the presidential campaign.
Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and "Law & Order" actor, is taking significant steps toward an expected summer entry into the crowded but extraordinarily unsettled Republican presidential race.
His likely candidacy could give restless conservatives somewhere to turn.
A crucial bloc of the GOP, those voters have not fully embraced the leading contenders, giving Thompson what his backers argue is an opening for a "true conservative" who can triumph in November 2008.
Republican Mitt Romney said Tuesday he would likely donate his salary to charity if elected president, a financial freedom he described as a byproduct of a successful business career.
"I never anticipated that I'd be as financially successful as I was, and then my business went far better than I expected it would," Romney told a woman at a Liberty Mutual office in Dover, N.H., when she asked if millionaire candidates could resolve government problems in Washington.
"I wouldn't disqualify somebody by virtue of their financial wealth or their financial poverty," Romney added. "I would instead look at their record, what they've done with their life and whether they can make a difference, whether the things they have learned will enable them to be an effective leader."
How would have voters of the day reacted to the disclosure that Franklin Roosevelt's marriage had been in name only for many years and that he had intimate relationships with at least two women including Lucy Mercer with whom he carried on a decades long love affair?
What would have been the public's view of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had it known that Gen. George C. Marshall, his boss as Army chief of staff, had summoned him to Washington during World War II to order him to break off any relationship with Kay Summersby, Eisenhower's British chauffer and nearly constant companion overseas. Whether rumors of an affair were true or not, Marshall reasoned that even a hint of infidelity would severely damage home front morale among women left behind.