Iraq dominates as platforms solidify

WASHINGTON -- Positions on the country's direction at home and abroad are starting to take shape in the blur of motion, money and ambition of the 2008 presidential contest.

Candidates vying for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations all have records in office of some sort, so there are no blank slates. Most have a select few issues upon which to ground their early campaign -- a health-care plan here, an outline on immigration, diplomacy or the environment there.

Many more pieces are to come for those who are in for the long haul.

Iraq is defining the campaign less than a year away from the primaries that will choose the presidential candidates for the November 2008 election.

The GOP front-runners support continued prosecution of the war. Democrats oppose the troop buildup, differing among themselves mainly on the speed with which they would start a withdrawal.

"Iraq is sort of that boulder in the road that you have to move before you can get to the rest of the issues," one Democratic hopeful, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, said in a South Carolina campaign stop.

Behind that big rock, only a few signature issues, varying by candidate, have come out in more than sketchy form.

Among Democrats, John Edwards has laid out a detailed plan to achieve universal health insurance, a blank slate so far for his chief rivals, and has proposed an anti-poverty program as well. Edwards is alone in acknowledging his plans would require higher taxes.

Republicans are feeling their way on the social issues important to the GOP base, with none of the top-tier candidates a perfect fit for social conservatives.

Giuliani's long-standing support for abortion rights and gay rights stands in marked contrast to the positions now taken by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has swung to the right on both issues.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has a long record of opposing abortion rights, but also a record of doing so without much enthusiasm. He and Giuliani stand together in opposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, favored by Romney.

On global warming, McCain has more in common with Illinois Democrat Barack Obama -- namely, a bill in the Senate with both their names on it -- than with fellow Republicans seeking the nomination.