Former South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle has changed his mind, and is in Iowa this weekend laying some of the groundwork for a presidential campaign.

Daschle, the former leader of Democrats in the U-S Senate, said during a February appearance in Iowa that he had “no plans” to run for President. “What has changed is my views about the direction the country is taking,” Daschle. “I felt badly about the direction before but it’s even worse now and I think it’s very important for those who believe they might have an opportunity to offer a change in direction to step forward.”

Daschle’s not formally declaring he’s running for president yet. “I haven’t made any decisions but I’m enjoying the conversations I’m having with the people of Iowa,” Daschle says. On Thursday, Daschle was in New Hampshire, the state that hosts the first primary in the presidential campaign. On Friday, Daschle arrived in Iowa, the first caucus state.

Daschle says if Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack decides to run for president, that “would not be a factor” in Daschle’s decision to compete in the Caucuses. “I have always felt that a candidacy should not be dependent upon who else is running. If you feel like you’ve got something to offer, if you’ve got ideas that you want people to consider, then I think you ought to get in the race regardless of who else may be doing so as well,” Daschle says. “I have great affection and admiration for Tom Vilsack and so if he runs, I would just say ‘More power to him.'”

As for ideas, Daschle has called for the “strategic redeployment” of U.S. troops that are now in Iraq and a universal health care system. Daschle, who lost his re-election bid in 2004, says it’s a “real strength” to be out of the Senate. “It’s an advantage not to be in the Senate right now. First, you’re not tied down schedule-wise. Secondly, you’re not involved in the day-to-day fights that are so acrimonious right now and third, it gives you more of an opportunity to be with people, to talk about your vision in the larger context than what bills may be confronting the Senate or the House right now.”

During speeches this week in New Hampshire, Daschle criticized the Bush Administration as an “arrogant crowd.” Daschle met for lunch with Democrats in Davenport over the noon-hour on Friday. He campaigned with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chet Culver Friday afternoon and he was the draw for a Friday night reception at a Des Moines brew pub.