The Iowa Caucuses are expected to be the kickoff event of the 2008 presidential campaign, and some of the governors who’ve been in Des Moines the past few days are potential candidates for the White House. A handful of the governors headlined party fundraisers and chatted up the political activists who do the legwork in Iowa Caucus campaigns. But the events were closed to reporters and the general public. Des Moines Register political columnist David Yepsen says one reason for that may be that Iowa’s Governor, Tom Vilsack, is thinking about running for president. “It would be unseemly to be coming out here to an event that he’s hosting and start using it for your own agenda,” Yepsen says. “It’s also kind of early for some of this stuff, so the best course is to keep it low key.””Politically, a governor who’s thinking about running for president…frankly doesn’t want a lot of attention on their early stirrings out here.” The presence of reporters changes the nature of a political gathering, according to Yepsen. “They don’t want to be ‘on.’ They want to be able to have a conversation where they learn and can share ideas without worrying how it’s going to be played out in the media,” Yepsen says. When Governor Vilsack talks with Iowa reporters, he isn’t ready to be that open about his aspirations. “My focus, and I’ve said this repeatedly, is on 2005 and the job that I have as governor,” Vilsack said this weekend on Iowa Public Television. “I am only focused on 2005 and 2006. I have no idea what I’m going to be doing in 2008 or 2007, for that matter.” Vilsack’s term expires in early January of 2007. Yet Vilsack sounds like a politician with aspirations beyond the state’s borders. Vilsack this weekend said it’s time for a “national conversation” about the size of the U.S. military and of the mission of the National Guard. Vilsack says the U.S. military doesn’t have enough “boots on the ground.” He also suggested it may be time to let those who sign up for Guard duty choose one of two paths. One would be a commitment to long-stints of active duty while the other would be a commitment to temporary duty to deal with natural disasters at home. Some western-state governors say they need their guard soldiers back from active duty overseas to help fight forest fires at home. Vilsack says Iowa’s National Guard isn’t having the recruitment woes that other states are experiencing for several key reasons. The state has boosted the college tuition grants for those who sign up for the guard. Guard soldiers who serve in combat get special first-time homebuyers assistance when they return to Iowa. And state officials have helped veterans qualify for more veterans’ benefits. “We’re basically sending the message to these men and women that we’re proud of them…that we will support them,” Vilsack says. Vilsack has repeatedly said John Kerry lost the last presidential election to George Bush on the security issue, and the party’s next nominee must address it. “I think Democrats…have to reassure people that we’ll do whatever it takes and we’ll spend whatever it costs to make people secure, and boots on the ground is one way we do that,” Vilsack says.
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