Tom Vilsack

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is not closing the door on the idea he might run for the U.S. Senate in 2020, but Vilsack today said the more immediate task for Iowa Democrats is to be “well-prepared” with the right questions for what he referred to as the “onslaught” of presidential candidates who’ll be visiting the state.

“I think there’s plenty of time to think about the state elections, but first and foremost I think we have got to get ready for the Caucuses and we have to get ready at the git go, at the beginning,” Vilsack told reporters today. “We can’t wait for a couple of months to pass because these people are coming now.”

Vilsack, a two term governor, served eight years as the nation’s agriculture secretary, during the entire Obama Administration. He spoke today in Des Moines at a forum focused on infrastructure and rural issues. Vilsack predicted the successful candidates in 2020 will be those who are excited and hopeful about the future.

“I think that would resonate in a lot of places that I’ve traveled…that’s how I’d approach it,” Vilsack said. “Make ’em squeal. I don’t know. Have we made even these folks squirm at all? I don’t know. Have we? I haven’t seen it, but a ‘happy warrior’ — I think we’re ready for that.”

Republican Joni Ernst used the “make ’em squeal” line in a campaign ad that helped propel her to victory in 2014. As for whether Vilsack might challenge Ernst’s bid for a second term in the U.S. Senate, the former governor is noncommittal.

“The door’s not open, closed, shut,” Vilsack said in response to a reporter’s question on the subject. “I don’t even know where the door is.”

Vilsack’s name surfaced as a potential Iowa Democratic candidate for the senate in 2014, but Vilsack indicated at the time that he preferred to stay on as U.S. Ag Secretary. Vilsack lives in suburban Des Moines and is currently the CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.