The end of the midterm election marks the official start of a 2008 presidential campaign that promises to be the most unpredictable and wide open White House contest in modern politics.

The campaign is tempting a diverse mix of ambitious leaders with the unique chance to pursue the White House without a sitting president or vice president in the way of their dreams. That hasn’t happened since President Calvin Coolidge and Vice President Charles Dawes sat out the 1928 campaign.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz., widely considered the front-runners in their respective parties, dominate the early positioning. An intriguing wild card is freshman Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the only black in the Senate, who says he is seriously considering a presidential run.

Among the other alternatives are Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, and former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani could change the dynamics of the race if he decides to run.

All the potential candidates were reluctant to appear too personally ambitious with Senate control hanging in the balance in the midterm.

McCain’s top advisers planned a Wednesday meeting to examine the 2008 landscape. Clinton, the only serious potential presidential candidate on the ballot Tuesday, made a victory tour of New York state Wednesday.Clinton brushed aside questions about 2008.

“We have some unfinished business. I’m hoping that starting next week, we’ll have a more receptive Congress,” she said, adding, “All I’m doing is thinking about going back to work next week in Washington. I’m going to relish this victory.”

In an NBC interview, McCain cautioned against reading Democrats’ near sweep of closely-contested midterm races as a portent for 2008.

“I’m a student of history,” McCain said. “We lost badly in 1976. Ronald Reagan charted our course in 1977. We came back in 1980 and gained the presidency and majority in the United States Senate.

“Look, these things are temporary. … We’ll get back on track.”

Edwards was preparing a 16-city tour to promote his feel-good new book, “Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives.” Not coincidentally, the book was scheduled for release exactly one week after Election Day, and the tour goes through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Hopefuls from both parties already have been campaigning in those early presidential primary voting states.

“This is going to be a donnybrook like we haven’t seen in Iowa,” said Democratic strategist Jeff Link, who is working for home state Gov. Tom Vilsack’s underdog campaign. Link said the state’s voters have been wrapped up in the midterm races, but he expects they will turn to presidential politics “pretty quickly, because the caucuses are 13 months away.”

Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who has been an impressive fundraiser, said Wednesday he would wait until Christmas before deciding on a presidential bid, and told The Associated Press in an interview: “I think the public is ready for a break from politics.”

c/o-: Reuters

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