Governor Tom Vilsack’s making five public appearances in New Hampshire over the next two days, laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign in the state which holds the first primary of the next campaign season. Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson is covering the governor’s trip.
Vilsack’s been to New Hampshire before, back in 2004 to help fellow Democrat John Lynch run for governor. Mark Halperin, the political director for ABC News, says the two men are similar. “It may be that Governor Vilsack can learn a thing or two from Governor Lynch about what the people in New Hampshire expect,” Halperin says.
Ray Buckley, a Democratic party insider from Manchester, New Hampshire, says Vilsack’s 2004 treks across the state exposed him to a number of New Hampshire voters who’re ready to take a second look. “Certainly Governor Vilsack did himself a lot of good by coming in and campaigning for then-candidate, now-Governor Lynch…People got to know him then,” Buckley says. “A number of us have seen him at various other national events where (Vilsack) has given a very inspiring speech. New Hampshire voters are known world-wide by their ability to be focused in on potential world leaders.”
While other potential Democratic presidential candidates have spent time and resources in the state already, Buckley says Vilsack has plenty of time to wage a credible campaign. “Very, very few people are in any way prepared to marry the candidate,” Buckley says. “They’re really on first dates right now. We’re not even near engagements or even going steady.”
Kathy Sullivan, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, has seen Vilsack in person once — at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. “But that’s pretty much been it, other than what I’ve read in the newspapers and (the) press,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan believes New Hampshire voters aren’t ready to pick yet from the wide array of Democrats who’re going to her state to lay the groundwork for a run for the White House in 2008. “I really think that a lot of people aren’t going to be focusing on the presidential race until after the mid-term election,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan describes the New Hampshire primary as a more general-election-style event that draws the “every-day” voter, not just the party activists. “What happens up here is that candidates need to run a race that appeals to a cross-section of voters, not just the more rabid wing of the party that tends to come out in your more typical primary situation,” Sullivan says. “Presidential candidates need to show that ability to attract voters across the ideological spectrum.”
ABC’s Halperin says Vilsack can make a bid for the vote of Independent voters who can decide things in New Hampshire. “(Vilsack) has some issue positions and sensibility that I think will help him appeal to those Independents who will have a choice in which primary to vote in and have become increasing important in determining the outcome of primaries (in New Hampshire),” Halperin says.
But can Vilsack break out of the pack of presidential hopefuls? “No one has a really clear message like ‘A Different King of Democrat’ or ‘Compassionate Conservative.’ I think if Governor Vilsack beats everybody to that spot…Someone needs to strike a spark, have a thematic rationale for why they should be president and I truly think he’s as well positioned to do that as anyone in the Democratic party.”
New Hampshire native Nick Clemons, the executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, says not many New Hampshirites know who Vilsack is, but he has time to make a connection. “Voters in New Hampshire are notorious for making up their minds at the last minute,” Clemons says, citing retired General Wesley Clark’s third place finish in January of 2004 after entering the race “late” in the fall of 2003. A lot of candidates are early to the trail, though.
Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and former North Dakota Senator Tom Daschle have all been to New Hampshire in the past week. Once Vilsack exits, Delaware Senator Joe Biden will enter New Hampshire for weekend events in the Granite State.