Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, shared a State Fair platform Saturday for a discussion of “biofuels” like ethanol and soydiesel.

Gingrich told the crowd of about 50 on-lookers that federal policy should not only give incentives to those who produce biofuels like ethanol, but to the auto industry to adjust to a future that does not rely on petroleum. “For a variety of reasons, management and labor have managed to make a mess out of the American auto industry and it is not today strong enough financially to make the investments it ought to be making in this conversion,” Gingrich said. “It is in the national interest for America to have the leading automobile manufacturing technology in the 21st century.”

Gingrich also suggested the influence of so-called “big oil” has waned in Washington because pump prices are topping $3-a-gallon in many places. “I believe if we could get a consensus on a next-generation biofuels bill that the anger of the country at large is sufficiently great about the price of oil that it would be very hard for politicians to stop it,” Gingrich said.

Vilsack told the crowd the oil industry has to see the writing on the wall. “They are now beginning to look for strategies to themselves become the producers and owners of facilities that produce biofuels,” Vilsack said.

The governor said relying on petroleum weakens the U.S. economically and forces the country to rely on foreign interests that control the world oil supply. “We actually have to encourage ordinary Americans to understand the significance and the importance of it to their ordinary lives, not just the $3 a gallon price they’re paying at the pump, but what it’s doing to their country,” Vilsack said. “What this really needs to be is an issue of patriotism, building a stronger America and a more secure America.”

During last year’s State Fair, Vilsack suggested there should be a series of bipartisan presidential candidate forums in Iowa in 2007. “One of the conversations that Speaker Gingrich and I had last year at the State Fair was how campaigns are run today and how superficial they are — 30 second soundbites, canned responses to canned questions — and how much better it would be if there were some sort of opportunity for a more free-flowing conversation,” Vilsack said this Saturday. “You would, I think, get a sense of candidates and get a sense of how thoughtful they are from that kind of conversation.”

After the Saturday forum featuring Vilsack and Gingrich, Gingrich was swarmed by a group of foreign journalists who are visiting Iowa, and Gingrich was pressed to talk about his contention that the world is entering World War III. Gingrich suggested the time for negotiating a truce in many of the world’s hot spots has ended. “I think we ought to get over this childish fascination with ‘Can you solve this by Tuesday morning so I can go back to watching soccer?'” Gingrich told the foreign journalists. “The fact is the next 20 years are going to be very hard and the question is whether or not the civilized parts of the world have the maturity to systematically develop strategies and develop organizations that can defeat the forces of terror.”

Gingrich and Vilsack are both considering a bid for the White House in 2008. Another potential presidential candidate of the future — Indiana Senator Evan Bayh — will visit the Fair Monday morning. Delaware Senator Joe Biden’s been in the state since Friday and will set foot on the fairgrounds Sunday.