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Questioning Vilsack's Quest

It's been a rough week for Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. First came the results of the latest Iowa poll, which showed him running a disappointing fourth in his home state (with 10% of the vote) and trailing John Kerry (12%), Hillary Clinton (26%), and John Edwards (30%).

Next came a less than fruitful effort trying to court the nutroots in Las Vegas. Ryan Lizza reports:

Sadly, Tom Vilsack, governor of Iowa and chair of the DLC, doesn't make the cut on Kos's top candidate list. Vilsack shares Richardson's lack of pretension, but he doesn't combine this man-of-the-people image with the de rigueur pandering or free meals. Instead, like Warner, he's burdened by DLC baggage, and he gets shoddy results. He sits on a poorly attended education panel with two know-it-all bloggers who dominate much of the session. Afterward, at his meeting with bloggers, 13 people show up, five of them national reporters. "Are you guys bloggers?" he asks of the other eight. During the panel's Q&A, one of the education panelists, Teacher Ken, interrupts the governor. "Let me respond to his question," Teacher Ken insists.

Vilsack gives lip service to the transformative power of the Internet on politics, noting the promise of a direct democracy project called the Progressive Caucus, but he also pointedly notes, "There is some maturing that has to take place" in the liberal blogosphere. "I think, in a more mature situation, you would see less focus on the personalities and more on the politics and the policies," he says. Pressed, he adds, "Well, you know, Daily Kos is banging away at the DLC. We don't need to do that. Because there is a set of values that I think people on Daily Kos have that define them as Democrats and a set of values that define me as the chair of the DLC. And you know what? I'm not the enemy. I'm a pretty decent guy, if I say so myself." Before wrapping up, Vilsack adds, "Al From takes some hits, and, clearly, Joe Lieberman, you know? We don't need to do that."

I have never met Vilsack before, and he strikes me as an extremely bright and knowledgeable governor. I almost feel bad for him. I want to--but don't--explain that, in the liberal blogosphere, he will now be the enemy.

Vilsack did manage to end the week on a positive note, impressing New Hampshire voters during a visit yesterday. Vilsack is a likeable guy with an endearing life story, but that isn't enough to put to rest the serious doubts Democrats have about his potential candidacy:

"I had a picture of Eugene McCarthy, a picture of Bobby Kennedy in my head. I had a very positive impression," said Seldin, a fixture in Concord Democratic politics. "But is he serious? And can he raise the money?"

We'll have to wait and see, of course, but I'd be surprised if the answer to that last question turns out to be 'yes.'