Having served his none-too-subtle role in the grand scheme of the 2OO8 presidential competition — keeping as many Iowa Democrats as possible “locked up” until New York Senator Hillary Clinton got her campaign up and running in the first caucus state — former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack today announced his exit from the race for the Democratic nomination.
Vilsack launched his run early and made as much noise as could be expected from a nowhere-in-the-polls candidate with a vague message and even vaguer hopes of raising the funds needed to mount a truly national campaign. But his brief candidacy — which was quietly advised and encouraged by Democratic strategists with long and close ties to the Clinton camp — never really amounted to much more than a blocking move for the New York senator with whom he worked closely as a leader of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council centrist.
For his trouble, the Iowan will earn a little bit of speculation about his vice presidential prospects — nil. And, if Clinton actually wins the presidency, about his Cabinet prospects — pretty good, if he’s willing to settle for Secretary of Agriculture; a bit slimmer if he wants something muscular like Energy.
From the start, Vilsack’s job was to present himself as a respectable alternative to the other Democratic candidates who, while he would go nowhere in states other than Iowa, could remain in the running with his fellow Hawkeyes until it was time to get out of Clinton’s way.
Even that modest task proven difficult.
Iowa Democrats never took Vilsack’s candidacy all that seriously. The latest Strategic Vision survey of potential Democratic caucus goers had former North Carolina Senator John Edwards at 24 percent, Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama each at 18 percent, and Vilsack with 14 percent.
That’s consistent with other polls. It is consistent, as well, with the reaction of key Democrats in Iowa, who dismissed Vilsack’s candidacy as they rushed to jump aboard other bandwagons. After Obama officially announced his candidacy earlier this month, two of Iowa’s most prominent Democratic officials, Attorney General Tom Miller and Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, endorsed the Illinoisan.
And Edwards has a grassroots operation in the state that borrows far deeper into most Democratic precincts than that of Vilsack, who quickly came to understand that the definitional phrase in the term “former governor” is “former.”