Friday, February 13, 2004

Move Over, Henry Wallace
Kerry/Vilsack? That's today's vice-presidential speculation--that the Iowa governor's high-profile appearance in Washington today might mean he's on the fabled short list to be John Kerry's running mate.

One of the most difficult votes I ever cast in my life was in the Iowa Democratic primary for governor in 1998. Vilsack, a state legislator, was running for the Democratic nom against a retired state Supreme Court justice, Mark McCormick--and there was not a dime's worth of difference between 'em in terms of positions. I finally voted for McCormick based on his higher statewide profile. The likely Republican nominee was former Congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot, fresh off a close loss to Tom Harkin in the 1996 Senate race. Not only that, Republicans had held the governorship for 30 years, so I figured we would need all the name recognition we could get. But Vilsack nosed out McCormick for the nomination and then came from far back in the polls in the last two weeks of the campaign to win the governorship (although he got plenty of help from Lightfoot, who ran as inept a campaign in '98 as he had run in losing to Harkin in '96--his thirst to be elected to anything caused me to joke that by 2000, he would be running for dog catcher in Pottawatomie County). Vilsack proved to be an effective and popular governor, getting reelected in 2002 by a comfortable margin. I saw his name on an early list of VP speculation over a year ago, but didn't put much stock in it. Then his wife endorsed Kerry while he sat out the caucuses, and it made me wonder if he was getting in position for a possible second slot on somebody's ticket. The Democrats' bench isn't very deep, as we've noted here before, although there are some rising governors on the scene--Rod Blagojevich in Illinois and Jennifer Granholm in Michigan come to mind, but neither of them is ready for prime time yet. Maybe Tom Vilsack is. Stay tuned.

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