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U.S. Democratic presidential candidates: Who's in so far

The 2016 U.S. presidential election is still months away, but the Democrats are already aligning themselves for a shot at the White House.

Hillary Clinton appears to be candidate to beat, but Joe Biden has yet to declare candidacy

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, 67, is the early favourite for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Richard Shiro/Associated Press)

The 2016 U.S. presidential race is heating up on the Democratic side, as declared and potential candidates begin carving their road to Washington.

Here are some of the big names who are, or may, be in the running to replace U.S. President Barack Obama:

Lincoln Chafee

Former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee cast himself as an anti-war candidate who, in 2002, opposed the invasion of Iraq back when Hillary Rodham Clinton supported it. (Manuel Balce Cenata/Associated Press)

Lincoln Chafee, who sat in the U.S. Senate as a Republican, later won the governor's job in Rhode Island as an independent before undergoing yet another political shift and becoming a Democrat in 2013.

Chafee was the only Senate Republican to vote in 2002 against the U.S. invasion of Iraq and he says on his campaign website that he wants the U.S. to make "international decisions with brains and not biceps."

Chafee, 62, also has some experience in Canada — the trained farrier spent seven years working as a blacksmith at racetracks in the U.S. and Canada, his campaign bio says.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton meets with voters in LeClaire, Iowa, in April. The former secretary of state is making a clear attempt to shed her image as a member of Washington's elite. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

A former senator, secretary of state and still wife of ex-president Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton is the undisputed front-runner for the presidential nomination. The problem for Clinton is that she was also the front-runner in 2007, before a junior senator from Illinois overtook her during the primary and later became president.

After announcing her candidacy on April 12 with a video clearly intended as an appeal to middle-class voters, Clinton said her campaign is "taking nothing for granted." She's travelling by road to early primary states to parlay her message that "the deck is still stacked in favour of those at the top" and that she wants to be a "champion" for the American people. 

Clinton's policy stances are largely in lock-step with the socially progressive approach of Obama, particularly on issues such as health care and climate change mitigation. As secretary of state, however, she advocated a more aggressive approach to some foreign crises — for example, she argued in favour of arming some rebel groups at the outset of the Syrian civil war, a move that Obama resisted until last year.

Clinton recently came under fire from critics on both sides of the aisle after it was revealed she used a private email server and account during her time as secretary of state.

Martin O'Malley

Martin O'Malley, the former governor of Maryland, used his presidential bid announcement to take swipes at Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, saying both rivals support policies that will only enrich the coffers of financial institutions on Wall Street. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Martin O'Malley was elected mayor of Baltimore at 36 years old and went on to serve two consecutive terms as the governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015. Now 52, the telegenic father of four is seen among Democrats as a more liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton and a seasoned, smooth operator on the campaign trail. 

Recently, O'Malley has become a vocal critic of political dynasties in the U.S. — thinly veiled references to the Clinton and Bush families — despite having campaigned aggressively for Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential bid. In an interview with ABC earlier this year, O'Malley said that "the presidency is not some crown to be passed between two families.

"It is an awesome and sacred trust to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people."

While his is a long-shot candidacy, O'Malley had considerable legislative successes during his time as governor in Maryland. His most notable accomplishments include a minimum wage increase, a repeal of the state's death penalty law and sweeping gun-control measures. 

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, who represents Vermont in the Senate, will offer a left wing option in the Democratic presidential primary. 'Billionaires own the political process,' he said when announcing he is entering the race. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Bernie Sanders first gained national attention as the "socialist mayor" of Burlington, Vt., during the Reagan era of the 1980s.

In 1990, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he sat until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006. He ran as an independent, but was endorsed and supported by the Democratic Party. Sanders still sits as an independent, but caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.

Sanders has great popularity in Vermont. He has pledged not to run a negative ad and says he will run an issues-oriented campaign. "The major issue is, how do we create an economy that works for all of our people rather than a small number of billionaires?" 

He then identified his second issue when declaring his run for the nomination: "A political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates."

Should Sanders, 71, win the Democratic Party's nomination and then the presidency, he would replace former president Ronald Reagan as the oldest when inaugurated.

Jim Webb

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb announced his presidential campaign on Thursday against a field of Democratic rivals. He vows to bring an outsider's voice to the 2016 race. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb announced his presidential campaign on July 2. After his outspoken opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was recruited to run for the Democrats in Virginia in 2006, then stepped down after just one term.

Webb says he has a "pretty diversified" professional life. He has been a much-decorated marine officer in Vietnam, Secretary of the Navy, an assistant secretary of Defence, U.S. Congress counsel and served on several committees, including foreign relations and armed services, while in office. He's also done work as a filmmaker, authored 10 books and won an Emmy for his work as a journalist.

Possible candidates

In the Democratic Party, there are efforts to get Vice-President Joe Biden to challenge his former cabinet colleague Clinton for the nomination. Biden, 72, had sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008, but was not successful.

Also of note is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a highly progressive academic turned politician. Warren headed the congressional panel charged with overseeing the distribution of bailout funds following the 2008 financial crisis, and has championed financial sector reform and stricter regulations on banks. Despite her saying in March, "I am not running and I am not going to run," liberal groups MoveOn.org and Democracy in Action are still pushing for her to run.

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters

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