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Iowa's Tom Vilsack at the Press Club

In a speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) talked about the importance of community -- offering a glimpse of his likely message should he decide to run for president in 2008.

Tom Vilsack
Vilsack addressed the National Press Club this week. (Bloomberg Photo)

Vilsack said he believes that the greatest harm the Bush administration has done to the country is erode its sense of community. "I think we have a crisis of confidence in the national community," he said, echoing a point he made in his recent Insider Interview with The Fix

After the 2004 campaign, Democratic strategists urged candidates to talk about their faith as way to to court voters in America's heartland. Vilsack appeared comfortable with that approach in his speech. He used religious imagery (the Biblical story of the loaves and the fishes) to illustrate the importance of community, saying the lesson "gives us the confidence to share."

Asked about what role religion should play in public life, Vilsack called it "a really important component to the makeup of individuals and community and it must be honored." But, he added, "There needs to be a recognition in this county that we are great because we respect all traditions."

The Iowa governor did his best to straddle the fence on the hot-button abortion issue. Asked his opinion on South Dakota lawmakers' effort to ban all nearly all abortions in their state, Vilsack said he did not agree with that "approach." Asked directly about his stance on abortion generally, he replied, "In a strong community you make life the best option." Vilsack makes no secret that he was born in an orphanage and adopted by a mother who struggled with alcohol and drug dependency.

Vilsack largely demurred when asked about his presidential intentions. What was his favorite thing was about New Hampshire, one questioner asked. "It's governor: John Lynch," he responded quickly.

Despite his dancing around the question, Vilsack is clearly exploring a presidential bid. He will keynote the South Carolina Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner on April 28. The state is expected to play a pivotal role in the 2008 presidential selection process as the first southern primary.

Vilsack has also been actively raising money into Heartland PAC -- his soft-money leadership committee. Vilsack raised nearly $1 million for the PAC in the final six months of 2005, including a $50,000 donation from Iowa attorney (and Democratic powerbroker) Jerry Crawford, and $5,000 contributions from Lou Sussman and Alan Solomon -- both of whom played key roles in the fundraising operation of John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.

The Iowa Republican Party filed an ethics complaint against Vilsack earlier this week, charging that two $25,000 donations he made from his personal campaign committee to Heartland violated state campaign finance laws. Vilsack's aides have dismissed the complaint, insisting they cleared the transfer through the state's ethics board.

The complaint by Republicans comes just days after Iowa Democrats filed a similar protest alleging that Rep. Jim Nussle (R) was using funds in his congressional account to support his gubernatorial campaign without proper disclosure.

(Footnote: The Iowa Republican Party has a Web site travelingtom.com dedicated to holding Vilsack's feet to the fire as he weighs a national bid; expect to see more state parties on both sides of the aisle adopt this idea when their native candidates begin running all out for president.)

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 2, 2006; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , Eye on 2008  
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