Governor Tom Vilsack spent the first day of his week-long “walk across Iowa” in north central Iowa’s Wright County. Early Monday afternoon Vilsack walked into the North Central Coop in Holmes, Iowa, a town of 22 residents just west of Clarion. One on-looker jokingly put it this way: Vilsack’s lucky to have had state troopers as body guards because Democrat Tom Vilsack was in Republican territory.
About two dozen people from the area crowded into the co-op for a grilled hamburger and a speech from their governor. Vilsack stood behind the co-op counter and explained why he has set aside a week in each of the past seven years to visit small towns. “I think it’s important for people in Iowa to always remember that we are and have been for as long as we’ve been around — and I think will continue to be — a state of smaller communities,” Vilsack said. “There are over 950 incorporated towns and cities in the State of Iowa and 800 of them have populations of less than a thousand.”
The town Vilsack visited over the noon-hour Monday is one of those small towns, although Tuesday Vilsack will be in and around Des Moines — Iowa’s largest city.
At each stop along the way Monday, Vilsack listed the ways in which he contends he’s “changed the landscape” of Iowa during his nearly eight-year tenure as governor. Vilsack cited the state’s growing ethanol, soy-diesel and wind energy industries as well as other positive economic indicators. “We’ve got progress and we’ve got momentum. We just want to make sure that we continue it and we build on it,” Vilsack said. “The nation’s attention is turned to Iowa in a real meaningful way and we’re providing leadership in a lot of different areas.”
When Vilsack opened the floor to questions in both Holmes over the noon-hour and Clarion later in the day, many questioners focused on national issues as Vilsack presumably is preparing to run for president in 2008. Many of Vilsack’s responses hinted at what kind of campaign themes he might pursue. “There’s a lot of discussion today about terror and safety and security,” Vislack said. “The reality is we can’t deal with any of those other issues unless we deal with the economic issues and strengthen the economy.”
But Vilsack was also challenged to explain how Iowa is competing against not only other states, but against countries like China. “I can tell you that we are improving the quality of job that we’re trying to create in Iowa. I can tell you that our per capita income has risen at a rate higher than all but 11 states in the last five years. I can tell you that we are at the cutting edge of industries like the renewable fuel industry,” Vilsack replied.
In Clarion, Vilsack was asked to explain how he’d fix the Social Security system and make health care insurance and prescription drugs more affordable. Blaine Nickles, a farmer from Clarion, was like many of the Democrats who listened to Vilsack yesterday. They’re just not sure Vilsack’s presidential material. “He could really fool me, you know, because he’s a got a lot of confidence and he has the ability to understand what’s happening in our country so I may be wrong on that,” Nickles says. “He may be a good candidate.”
The last question of the day came from a woman who asked Vilsack: “why don’t you run for president?” Vilsack told her that topic was “for a later day.”