US presidential hopefuls are preparing for the first run of primaries and caucuses which will decide who will win the nomination for their political party.

Whoever wins the nominations for the Democratic and Republican parties will go on to contest the 2008 US election, already seen as potentially one of the most hotly contested in decades.

Al Jazeera profiles the candidates running for the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination.

Hillary Rodham Clinton - Democrat

The former first lady and New York senator is the wife of Bill Clinton, US president from 1993 to 2001.

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John Edwards - Democrat

Edwards, a former North Carolina senator and lawyer, is campaigning for the Democratic nomination despite his wife suffering from terminal cancer.

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Barack Obama - Democrat

The senator from Illinois would be the US's first African-American president if elected to the White House.

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Rudy Giuliani - Republican

Giuliani, mayor of New York City during the 11 September attacks, has cast himself as the Republican candidate who will keep the US safe.

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Mike Huckabee - Republican

Former governor of Arkansas, Huckabee is a also a Baptist minister and a favourite among US evangelical Christians, promoting himself as a "Christian leader".

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Mitt Romney - Republican

Best known as the man who turned around the Utah winter Olympics, Romney is governor of the eastern state of Massachusetts and a member of the Mormon religion.

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Chris Dodd - Democrat

Chris Dodd, a lawyer who has been a Connecticut senator since 1981, trails the other main Democratic candidates, coming last in several polls.

Chairman of the senate banking committee and a member of the US senate foreign relations committee, he was opposed to the Iraq war and the so-called troop "surge", saying US troops should be pulled out and calling for "diplomacy, not a surge of more troops".

On his campaign website argues for the US to revive its "moral authority", calling on the country to engage with nations such as Saudi Arabia and Russia to improve their human rights and to end the US dependence on oil from nations such as Venezuela and Iran, favouring investment in renewable energy sources instead.

Bill Richardson - Democrat

Richardson, governor of New Mexico, is the only Hispanic candidate among those running for the US presidency.

A former US ambassador to the UN - ironically appointed by Bill Clinton, husband of his rival for the nomination Hillary Clinton - Richardson is one of the most experienced candidates in the international arena.

He initially supported the Iraq war but now favours troop withdrawal and redirecting funds towards fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and combating nuclear proliferation.

He also favours resolving the Middle East process in order to combat religious extremism by aiding some Palestinian groups and implementing a two-state solution.

 
Joe Biden - Democrat

The senator for Delaware and chairman of the senate foreign relations committee has survived a series of personal and political setbacks, notably the deaths of his first wife and daughter in a car accident in the 1970s and the collapse of a previous presidential run after he was accused of plagiarising a speech.

Biden, who in his work for the foreign relations committee has travelled to the Balkans, believes Iraq should be federalised to end sectarian violence and that some US forces should pull back from a combat role.

He also favours engaging Iran and its neighbours - particularly Syria - to end the crisis over Tehran's nuclear programme.

On the Middle East conflict, he has said he feels Hamas should be isolated and other Palestinian groups encouraged, while Arab states must normalise relations with Israel before comprehensive peace talks can be held.

Dennis Kucinich - Democrat

A previous candidate in the 2004 Democratic presidential race, Ohio congressman Kucinich is regarded by many as one of the most traditionally liberal candidates in the campaign.

With a campaign slogan of "strength through peace", he is the only Democratic candidate to have voted against the war in Iraq and has continued to call for not only US troop withdrawal but a removal of all US contractors from the country.

He also proposes a two-state solution to end the Middle East conflict, calling for an end to Israeli settlement expansion and for both sides to hold direct negotiations over Jerusalem's final status.

Mike Gravel - Democrat

The former senator from Alaska, who while in office once attempted to end the US military draft for the Vietnam war, is popular on the internet but has not managed to translate this favourably in polls of potential voters.

Gravel follows his Democratic rivals in calling for the swift withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in talks which would include Hamas.

John McCain - Republican

McCain, a war hero who spent five years as a prisoner in Vietnam, is a senator for Arizona who also ran for the presidential nomination in 2000, losing to George Bush following a bitter media campaign.

Hawkish on foreign policy, McCain supported the war in Iraq but has been vocal in what he sees as the Pentagon's mismanagement of the conflict. He has also said he would not rule out a military strike against Iran over its nuclear programme.

As a former POW, he has been strident in his condemnation of use of torture and vocal in his belief that US political campaign finance needs reform.

Fred Thompson - Republican

One of the more colourful candidates in the 2008 presidential race, Thompson is a former senator for the southern state of Tennessee who also works as an actor in the US crime drama series Law and Order.

One of the most traditionally conservative candidates, he supports gun rights, opposes abortion and supports expanding the US military and developing the controversial missile defence system.

Thompson supported the war in Iraq and opposes troop withdrawal. He is hawkish in dealing with Iran, saying that military force is still an option.

Ron Paul - Republican

Another candidate who enjoys a loyal following on the internet that helped propel him into the media spotlight, although not into higher poll numbers.

A Texas congressman, Paul enjoyed the largest one day fundraiser in US history thanks to an internet campaign, raising more than $6m in 24 hours.

Paul, who voted against the Iraq war, favours non-interventionism in foreign affairs, has proposed to close all overseas US military bases.

Duncan Hunter - Republican

The California congressman and Vietnam war veteran whose son has served in the Iraq war, Hunter remains an outsider in the Republican presidential race.

With a strong military background, Hunter, who describes himself as a "true conservative", says that if he became president he would keep troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He is also a staunch supporter of Israel who says he approves the use of pre-emptive force against Iran regarding its nuclear programme.

Source: Al Jazeera