Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Vilsack's role with the National Governors Association.

Iowa Governor Begins His Bid For President

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 1, 2006

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa, Nov. 30 -- Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) launched his campaign for president here Thursday with a jab at President Bush's leadership, a warning that America's way of life is threatened, and a pledge to overcome the country's challenges with big ideas on energy, education, the economy and health care.

"America needs a president who builds and creates, who makes our country more secure, who is bold and has the courage to create change," Vilsack told a crowd in his adopted hometown. "I will be that president."

Vilsack, who is stepping down in January after two terms in office, begins his bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination overshadowed by such possible rivals as Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois . He brings to the contest the credentials of a Washington outsider and success as an underdog who appears undaunted by his lesser-known status.

Speaking to several hundred supporters on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan College here, Vilsack talked forthrightly about his standing in the field of candidates. "You know, I've always been an underdog and a long shot," he said. "I've always been inspired by the stories of ordinary citizens who worked hard, overcame adversity and succeeded."

In an interview shortly before leaving Iowa for a campaign swing to New Hampshire and other states with early caucuses and primaries, Vilsack expanded on that theme, predicting that, as people get to know him and his record, he will hold up well against his rivals. "I just want to be on the stage," he said. "If I'm on the stage, I'll take my chances. I'll take my shot with anybody."

Vilsack is the first official candidate for president in 2008, but his announcement comes at a time of accelerating activity among a large cast of characters in what will be one of the most wide-open campaigns in modern history.

Outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) announced additions to his staff this week as he continues aggressive preparations for a likely run for his party's nomination.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) set up a presidential exploratory committee last month and delivered a pair of speeches to conservatives outlining his vision for rebuilding a fractured Republican Party. Both he and Romney were in Miami on Thursday courting Republican governors.

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) has also established an exploratory committee.

Among Democrats, Obama has been seeking advice in advance of his decision, which aides have said will not come before the end of the year. He has had conversations with prominent Iowa Democrats, and he plans a trip to New Hampshire on Dec. 10. Clinton is quietly weighing her options, and Democrats say her advisers are closely monitoring the groundswell around Obama.

Vilsack did not have his state to himself as he launched his candidacy. On Wednesday, former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) drew a big crowd at a book signing in Des Moines. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) will be in Iowa on Monday -- it will be his 12th such visit to the state, which will hold the first presidential caucuses in 2008.

Vilsack's first challenge will be to win those caucuses, scheduled for January 2008. A Des Moines Register poll of Democratic activists earlier this year showed him running behind Edwards. Vilsack said Thursday that he welcomes all challengers in the state.

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