Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack was seen by perhaps as many as six million Americans Thursday night when he appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Vilsack appeared in a skit at the very beginning of the show — not in costume, but as himself in suit and tie. "Please check this. I know my name’s on here," Vilsack said, poking the guest list being held by an actor posing as a security guard.
"Sir, I’m only going to ask you to leave one more time," the guard said.
Leno then arrived on the scene. "What’s going on here?" Leno said.
"Jay, this guy’s trying to sneak into the studio," the guard said.
"He is on the show. He’s Tom Vilsack. He’s running for president of the United States," Leno replied.
"Yea, I remember you now. You did that documentary on global warming," the guard said — a reference to former Vice President Al Gore. Vilsack hung his head. Leno patted him on the back, and the band started playing the show’s theme.
Just before introducing his first guest — actor Jim Carrey — Leno jokingly referred to Vilsack’s upcoming appearance on the show. "Our ‘Presidential Idol’ contest begins tonight with one of the Democratic candidates for president," Leno told the audience.
Just after 11:15 Iowa time, Leno formally introduced Vilsack. "My next guest was the first Democratic candidate to announce he’s running for president in 2008, trouble is hardly anybody knows him outside of Iowa where he was recently governor," Leno began. "I did a few jokes about him and in the interest of fairness, we decided to invite him here."
Vilsack walked on the set, shook hands with Leno and with Carrey, then sat down for a six-minute chat. "I know I did a few jokes about you," Leno began. "Were you bothered by any of the jokes at all?"
Vilsack joked that since he shows up in public opinion polls with as little as one or two percent support — "just below the margin of error" — any mention on a nationally televised program "is good."
Vilsack slipped in a mention of his campaign website and outlined his personal history for a couple of minutes. Leno then asked Vilsack about being among those who John Kerry considered as a runningmate in 2004. "Would you have wanted that job?…Would you consider it now?" Leno asked.
Vilsack replied that he was running for the "top spot" and then asked Leno if he would consider being the v.p. nominee on a Vilsack/Leno ticket.
"That job pays less than a week in Vegas. I’m not taking that job. No," Leno said, as the audience laughed and applauded.
Toward the end of the interview, Leno asked Vilsack how he could compete with "rock stars" in the race like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, especially since Vilsack showed up with a "skeleton crew" for last night’s taping. "Two guys and a Hertz Rent-A-Car. How does that work?" Leno said.
Vilsack laughed, then replied: "I’m not a rock star. I’m rock solid." Leno and Carrey both shouted at that point, and the band’s drummer punctuated it with a drum roll and a cymbal crash. "I think that’s what this country is looking for," Vilsack continued. "I think they’re looking for somebody who’s willing to say the truth about this war. It’s got to end. It’s got to end now. They’re looking for somebody who can lead this country to energy security, which I think I can do."
After the show was taped, Vilsack talked with reporters by telephone. "I think anytime you get an opportunity to be in front of a national audience, especially an opportunity to show yourself as a regular person with an interesting life story and a position on an issue that is an issue of the day, it’s going to help," Vilsack said.
Vilsack’s wife has convinced him to dress in costume on several occasions — you may have seen pictures of Vilsack in that Winnie the Pooh costume. But Vilsack expressed relief that he hadn’t been asked to wear some sort of costume last night. "No. No, no. No, no. It was a typical suit-and-tie kind of thing. There was no costume and no mention of costumes, thank God," Vilsack said, laughing.