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Vilsack’s moment in the sun


It would have been a fun campaign to watch, the governor from Iowa second-chairing Democrat John Kerry’s presidential campaign. But another vice president from Iowa – Henry A. Wallace was the only person from the state to hold that office – was not to be. Kerry wisely chose fellow senator John Edwards, whose passionate and empathetic “Two Americas” speech vaulted him to a second-place finish in the Iowa Caucuses.

However, Tom Vilsack, a dark horse in the race for veep by most estimations, is hardly a loser. Though his position as chairman of the Democratic Governors’ Association and a leadership position with the National Governors’ Association have given him some national exposure, Vilsack still was relatively unknown outside the state until he made Kerry’s short list of possible running mates. By the time Kerry got around to announcing Edwards was his choice, most people had stopped asking “Who?” Some had even come to know him as a fierce campaigner who was able to beat what seemed to be insurmountable odds in 1998 and become Iowa’s first Democratic governor in 30 years. Even his critics had to admire that.

The intense scrutiny of the vetting process and the national exposure will help Vilsack should he decide to run for president himself some day. He’s been described in the national media as an earnest, hard-working and honest governor who’s been dogged in the pursuit of his priorities in a Republican-dominated Legislature. Through it all, he’s emerged as a leader who, though perhaps not ready for the vice presidency, brings fresh ideas and initiatives to the national stage, the Grow Iowa Values Fund being but one example. (Unfortunately for the governor, the Iowa Supreme Court decision striking down his use of the line-item veto to eliminate tax cuts and other unrelated items from the legislation establishing the Values Fund legislation probably got more national press.)

More important than all of that, when the national spotlight shone on Vilsack, it also illuminated Iowa as a healthy, wholesome place, prolonging the buzz the state got in the caucuses. Ultimately, Kerry’s selection of Edwards defended that process as well. Having the Democratic ticket made up of the top two finishers in the Iowa Caucuses gives that process instant credibility. It’s an effective counter to criticisms that Iowa is too small and too homogenous to kick off the presidential nomination process.

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