A look back at the 2008 election and Secretary Vilsack’s role

Photo of Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

It was exactly four years ago today, Feb. 23, 2007, that then former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) announced he was getting out of the 2008 presidential race due to monetary constraints. Vilsack had also been the first to enter the race as the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States, officially filing papers with the FEC to form his presidential campaign committee Nov. 9, 2006.

Vilsack kicked off his campaign Nov. 30, 2006; considered a long-shot candidate. However, Vilsack often repeated that when it came to elections he often started as an underdog, but that he had yet to lose a race.

But after just three months, the campaign was over, never really gaining much traction. He never placed any staff on the ground in New Hampshire, the first and a key primary election state. A senior campaign official said at the time the campaign simply could not keep up with the campaign funds that rivals like Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were raising.

Shortly after ending his 2008 bid for the White House, Vilsack endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and was named the national co-chair for Clinton’s presidential campaign. Clinton placed third in the Iowa Democratic caucus to Obama and Edwards. Following the final primaries on June 3, 2008, Obama had gained enough delegates to become the presumptive nominee. In a speech before her supporters on June7, Clinton ended her campaign and endorsed Obama.

On Dec. 17, 2008, then President-Elect Barack Obama announced Vilsack’s selection to be the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack’s nomination was confirmed by the United States Senate by unanimous consent Jan. 20, 2009. Vilsack’s appointment was rumored to be part of the “deal” the Clintons had brokered when Hillary reluctantly conceded the Democratic Presidential nomination to Obama.

Vilsack served as the 40th Governor of the State of Iowa, first elected in 1998 and then re-elected to a second four-year term in 2002.

Tom Vilsack is not a native son of the state of Iowa. He was born in Pittsburgh, PA, abandoned at birth and placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage. He was adopted by Bud Vilsack, a real-estate agent and insurance salesman, and Dolly Vilsack, a homemaker.

He attended a preparatory high school in Pittsburgh, and received his Bachelor’s degree in 1972 from Hamilton College in New York, and Juris Doctor in 1975 from the Albany Law School.

Vilsack met his future wife, Ann Christine “Christie” Bell, while at college in New York. The couple were married Aug. 18, 1973, in Bell’s hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa. The couple moved to Mount Pleasant in 1975, where Tom Vilsack joined his father-in-law in law practice.

Vilsack was elected mayor of Mount Pleasant in 1987; and elected to the Iowa Senate in 1992.

Tom Vilsack narrowly won the 1998 gubernatorial general election; it was the first time in 30 years that a Democrat was elected Governor of Iowa. Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) preceded Vilsack, having served 16 consecutive years as governor. Governor Branstad was reelected to the post in the 2010 election.

For most of Vilsack’s tenure as governor, Republicans held majorities in the Iowa General Assembly. Following the Nov. 2, 2004, elections, the Senate was nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans held a 51–49 majority in the House of Representatives.

In 2001, Vilsack served as a Chair of the Midwestern Governors Association; and he was chair of the Democratic Governors Association in 2004. In 2005, Vilsack established Heartland PAC, a political action committee aimed at electing Democratic governors. Vilsack left office in 2007; he did not seek a third term as governor.

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