We'll admit to a certain amount of head scratching about Tom Vilsack's decision to make his presidential ambitions official last Thursday. It's not that Vilsack's desires were a surprise. But if he wanted to make any sort of splash in the presidential race, he might have looked for a quieter pool in which to dive; coming amid the Democrats' takeover of the House and the Senate and Donald Rumsfeld's departure from the Bush administration, Vilsack's news Thursday didn't make much news at all.
So why'd he do it when he did it? Tim Dickinson offers a theory in Rolling Stone: Maybe Vilsack isn't really aiming for the presidency at all -- at least not for himself. As the governor of Iowa, Vilsack ought to be the favorite to win the Iowa caucus. Thus, his presence in the race might relieve Vilsack's friend and Democratic Leadership Council colleague Hillary Clinton of any burden to win the state, leaving her free to concentrate on early states better suited to her strengths.
"The point is that Iowa is hard to win," Dickinson writes. "It requires time, and more time, and a degree of face-to-face human warmth and interaction to win. Politically interested people in Iowa expect to shake hands with the person they caucus for. Retail politics is not Hillary's bag, to put it mildly. If she can opt out of Iowa, that allows her to plow her mass market media dollars into Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada ... If she takes the Silver State, she could roll into New Hampshire, where geography is already her friend, the prohibitive frontrunner."
What does Vilsack get out of the deal? The gratitude of the woman who may end up the Democratic nominee, and maybe just enough name recognition that she can repay the debt by selecting him as her vice-presidential candidate.
Speculative? Way. But Dickinson notes an unusual degree of cooperation and kind words flowing back and forth between the two candidates' camps.