The first man out of the gate last week in the 2008 presidential race was ... Tom Vilsack.
Who? He's Iowa's largely unknown Democratic governor, who also heads the centrist Democratic Leadership Counsel. At first blush his is a resume reminiscent of a Clinton, Bill Clinton. Bill was, of course, the DLC's guy — the epitome of the corporate-friendly third-way New Democrat. His two terms helped the DLC reshape and re-brand the party.
The DLC's influence waned post-Clinton, of course, but it was reputedly still powerful enough to have tripped up Howard Dean's presidential primary bid in 2004.
All of which leads to the question of why the DLC would have two horses in the race for 2008. Particularly when the true thoroughbred in the DLC leadership stable is another Clinton. Hillary.
Teammembers Hillary and Tom (far right)
If you're the DLC and you've got a great shot at another Clinton White House, why muck things up with a 1000-to-1 longshot bid like Vilsack. It makes little sense, unless Vilsack is a stalking horse for Hillary.
J Pod, over at the National Review, sees Vilsack's run as a boon to New York's Jr. Senator. He believes it takes Iowa and it's peculiar, corn-y retail politics off the table... much (as Kevin Drum notes) like Tom Harkin's bid in'92 did for Bill Clinton:
The decision by Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack to seek the Democratic presidential nomination. This decision is a huge gift to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. With Vilsack in the race, all other Democratic candidates can declare the Iowa caucuses his territory and bail out of there. The quirky state won't play a big role, and that only benefits the 800 lb. Gorilla.
And this New York Times piece handicapping Hilary's inevitable bid suggests a degree of coordination with the Vilsack campaign:
Tom Vilsack of Iowa even called her this week to give her a heads-up that he was planning to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, advisers to both of them said. Mr. Vilsack is a longtime admirer of Mrs. Clinton, his advisers said, and he is well aware that she has the standing and money to mount a formidable campaign.
So Vilsack is off and running! And his staff is giving Sen. Clinton a tongue bathing? What's the point?
The point is that Iowa is hard to win. It requires time, and more time, and a degree of face-to-face human warmth and interaction to win. Politically interested people in Iowa expect to shake hands with the person they caucus for. Retail politics is not Hillary's bag, to put it mildly.
If she can opt out of Iowa that allows her to plow her mass market media dolars into Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada (which is the number two race on the revamped primary schedule). If she takes the Silver State, she could roll into New Hampshire, where geography is already her friend, the prohibitive frontrunner.
Vilsack maybe raises his name recognition enough to be a viable veep candidate. Or at the very least sets himself up for a plum cabinet post in the second Clinton White House.
What do you think?