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.
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.
October 26, 2006; 3:00 PM ET
Categories: Eye on 2008
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