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Vilsack Making First '08 Move?

Word out of Iowa is that outgoing Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) is beginning to solicit contributions for an early December event that would raise money for a federal political action committee.

Iowa's Tom Vilsack
Rumor has it that Tom Vilsack may launch a federal PAC in December, another sign that he's planning a 2008 White House run. (AP Photo)

Why is this significant? To date Vilsack has raised money for a potential 2008 presidential bid through his Heartland PAC -- a so-called 527 organization that allows donors to write checks of unlimited amounts. Such unlimited contributions are prohibited under federal campaign finance laws, which govern presidential fundraising.

Should Vilsack begin raising money for a federal account it would be a signal that he is serious about a national bid -- as any cash collected would likely go to a presidential exploratory committee. That money could be used to fund his travels around the country as well as begin building the shell of a national campaign staff.

Kiki McLean, a spokeswoman for Vilsack, said no federal organization "currently" exists, and added that "after Nov. 7 we can talk about the next cycle and next steps." Parse her words carefully. The fact that no committee currently exists is not a denial that plans are in the works to create one later.

It's hard to judge what kind of fundraiser Vilsack will be in the presidential context, as he has never had to abide by the strict federal fundraising limits in his past races.

For Heartland PAC, Vilsack has shown an ability to lure big dollar donors to make major contributions. In the committee's pre-election report, covering fundraising for the first 17 days of October, Hollywood producer Steve Bing chipped in $25,000 as did Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb. Heartland has also benefited from the financial largesse of organized labor -- in October alone the United Food and Commercial Workers Union donated $50,000.

Can Vilsack translate his success at raising soft (read:unlimited) dollars into collecting hard (limited) dollars is one of the major question marks surrounding his candidacy. Already several potential competitors -- Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), John Kerry (Mass.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.) -- have more tha $10 million on hand in their federal accounts, sums that can be immediately transferred to a presidential campaign. With such a high starting bar, many neutral observers believe Vilsack's candidacy is over before it starts.

Vilsack's other major hurdle is that as the favorite son in a state whose caucus will kick off the 2008 nominating contest, he faces unreasonably high expectations. The last time an Iowa candidate ran for president was in 1992 when Sen. Tom Harkin (D) won 76 percent of the caucus vote. That feat is unimaginable for Vilsack given the number of well-known and well-financed candidates expected to be in the field.

In fact, a poll commissioned by the Des Moines Register over the summer showed Vilsack in fourth place in a hypothetical caucus match-up -- behind former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards (30 percent), Clinton (26 percent) and Kerry (12 percent). Vilsack took 10 percent in the poll. Such a showing in the real caucuses would signal the end of a Vilsack run.

Because of the above factors, Vilsack would enter the presidential race as a major underdog. But the very fact that he is beginning to put the pieces in place to consider a run reminds us that the 2008 presidential race is about to start in earnest. Stay tuned.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 26, 2006; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Vilsack, hmmm,

Here's a guy who doesn't have the guts to outright endorse Kerry in the 04 caucus, instead sends his wife to "make her own endorsement of Kerry", so Vilsack could stay "neutral"...Vilsack's "support" sure worked out well for Kerry, considering Iowa flipped from Gore 00 to Kerry 04...what great support!

Next he handpicks a guy to run against Culver in the Governor primary (who had basically been running since the day Vilsack announced he would not run again). Vilsack's guy was Blouin, and he had to beg Blouin to run, considering Blouin last ran a campaign in the 70's, when he lost his Congressional seat. Vilsack again stays "neutral", but twists the arms of almost all of the Democratic state legislators into endorsing Blouin, plus pushed all labor (except UAW) into backing Blouin as well.

Needless to say Blouin lost to Culver in the primary, but nowhere near as bad as Vilsack's former staffer, Dusky Terry, whose race Vilsack invested a ton of cash and time into, only to be crushed in the primary.

And finally, the summer poll shows Vilsack in 4th place in the presidential in Iowa. Now who thinks people think the Iowa Democratic machine will improve its support for Vilsack after Culver takes over the governorship?

If you disbelieve any of this, just quietly ask around Iowa Democratic circles (outside of the ever shrinking Vilsack circles).

Posted by: Iowa Democrat | November 2, 2006 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Vilsack has great story to tell. The problem is charisma is lacking. Likewise Bayh has a charisma deficit. These two (I prefer Bayh as he ran IN as a fiscal conservative) will have a problem relating to much of America.

Posted by: Stck a fork in it. | October 27, 2006 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Vilsack? Snore.

The guy will go nowhere. He'll raise enough money to fart along through the debates but that's it at the most. His whole candidacy is based on 'hey I can win Iowa!' But it won't mean anything. If he wins Iowa then everyone will say it means nothing because he's the hometown boy. If he loses then they will say that he's hopeless.

Who exactly is it that Vilsack is supposed to excite? What is his constituency? The man is dead in the water. In 5 years nobody will even remember that he ran.

Posted by: Jackson Landers | October 27, 2006 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Vilsack is too thin skinned for any national campaign.

Posted by: Another Iowan | October 27, 2006 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Vilsack for Sec. of Education.

Posted by: Gordon | October 27, 2006 9:25 AM | Report abuse

"IOWA" don't speak for Iowa...

This Iowa activist is looking elsewhere than Vilsack.

Posted by: IOWA | October 27, 2006 9:24 AM | Report abuse

WH08--blah. Give us more on state legislatures and ballot initiatives.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | October 27, 2006 1:20 AM | Report abuse

Sitck A Fork;

Check that link I just posted, then tell me what you consider "prime time?"

No offense intended, but this Vilsack is really making things happen in a big way, yet it stays behind the scenes, it just goes under-reported.

Posted by: JEP | October 26, 2006 10:10 PM | Report abuse

I agree with a lot of what's been said about Vilsack as a non-starter (the sole exception being if he can somehow pry labor from Edwards' grip). So what else might be going through his head? Given that Grassley's not up till 2010 we know that he's not thinking about taking on the state's Republican Senator - though it wouldn't be a bad move (one that perhaps should have been made in 2004)

Chris - any murmurs that Tom Harkin may be considering retirment? He'll have been in there 24 years by the time 08 runs around, though he won't even have hit 60.

Posted by: Gadfly | October 26, 2006 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Given that Grassley's not up till 2010 we know that he's not thinking about taking on the state's Republican Senator - though it wouldn't be a bad move (one that perhaps should have been made in 2004)

Chris - any murmurs that Tom Harkin may be considering retirment? He'll have been in there 24 years by the time 08 runs around, though he won't even have hit 60.

Posted by: Gadfly | October 26, 2006 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Isn't Vilsack chairman of the DLC?

That Iowa boy's rubbin' elbows with some real city-slickers... sure hope they don't take advantage of him.

By golly.

Vilsack's navigated around a very pro-active and powerful Republican legislature and posted some rare progressive points, in spite of them.

He also brought the unions back together, at least for one historic moment.

The more he succeeds as he manages the party, the more he looks like a stand-out leader. And it seems that the party's outlook has become brighter, if polls are to be believed.

So where might that proven leadership lead to?

There's a long political season between now and 2008, and anything is possible.

Posted by: JEP | October 26, 2006 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Gov. V is IMO, NRFPT...not ready for prime time. Would make a great cabinet secretary.

Posted by: Stick A Fork In It | October 26, 2006 9:55 PM | Report abuse

A Vilsick candidacy is a loser in my opinion. Four years ago he was listed as a possible presidential candidate, because he was supposedly a moderate and due to the state he is from.

Four years later I, who consider myself much more active than the average American when it comes to following politics, know exactly two things about the man:

1. His home state
2. That he is supposedly a moderate

One would reasonably assume that if someone who is as active in following politics as I am knows very little about the guy, even though 4 years ago he was listed as a possible candidate for president, then maybe a lot of other average Americans know ever less.

Posted by: J. Crozier | October 26, 2006 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I met Gov. Vilsack earlier this year at the annual Democratic fundraiser. He's smart and extremely easy to like. No, he doesn't have HRC's star power, and he doesn't have Obama's charisma. What he does have is solid executive experience and a compelling narrative as an adopted child in a troubled home who overcame adversity to be where he is today. He's gentle, courteous and seems honest. Maybe not the red-meat-serving primary candidate, but a terrific general candidate.

Posted by: Wyoming | October 26, 2006 3:33 PM | Report abuse

It would be smart for the Democrats to have a midwesterner on their ticket, but a sitting governor or senator would be stronger than an ex-governor or ex-senator. Vilsack has a compelling and inspiring bio and he's Catholic. He might have been a better choice for Kerry, but it would not have made a difference in the final results. If Vilsack can help Chet Culver win the Iowa gubernatorial election, he will also help his own national ambitions.

Posted by: Progressive | October 26, 2006 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Here in the East, not many recognize his name. If he's going to start on November 8th he has a lot of sprinting to do to catch up with the current crowd of media coronated wear-evers. I agree with the first posting. He's angling for something else, after his governorship.

Posted by: LSterling | October 26, 2006 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Iowa... don't be defnsive. I do like this blog fine... I was just saying Chris should be balanced as he ppurports to be and do a smilar piece on R 527's as he did on Dems.

As for Vilsack, I think he's fine. He's had very little national exposure so most of us know nothing about him.

'Exxon Mobil Corp. )on Thursday said earnings rose 6 percent to $10.5 billion, the second-largest quarterly operating profit ever by a U.S. company, boosted by robust oil production, as crude prices hovered near record levels.'

Posted by: drindl | October 26, 2006 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I think Chris does an excellent job reporting and if he was doing such a lousy job why do you come back and read his blog. We in Iowa are proud of our Governor even if he makes you sleepy.

Posted by: Iowa | October 26, 2006 3:01 PM | Report abuse

A likable guy, but ... yawn. Where's the column about Republican 527's?

Where's more about this election?

Posted by: drindl | October 26, 2006 2:47 PM | Report abuse

He might have made a better running mate for John Kerry in 2004 than Edwards. In particular because he could've delivered Iowa. But as a presidential candidate in his own right for 2008 it doesn't seem feasible. A likeable guy though.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | October 26, 2006 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Chris -

I know how intrested you are in '08 - but can't you wait two more weeks? You will have tons of stuff then. . .there is SO much going on with the election that is only 12 days away that I can't imagine there is a shortage of topics for you. . .

Posted by: star11 | October 26, 2006 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Vilsack is a non-starter. He is angling for VP or a cabinet post.

Posted by: RMill | October 26, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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