Vilsack's 5-State Tour Kicks Off '08 Run

The Associated Press
Saturday, December 2, 2006; 10:23 PM

PITTSBURGH -- As soon as Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack arrived at his childhood home in the city's Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Saturday, former neighbor Judith Perman reminded him of his fondness for orange Popsicles and pot pies.

"Your mother was one of the best housekeepers," said Perman, who baby-sat Vilsack and his sister Alice in the mid-1950s.

Vilsack was in Pittsburgh as part of a five-state tour kicking off his 2008 presidential run. The 55-year-old is the first Democrat to formally enter the race.

"I will work for you," Perman, 68, of Shaler Township, promised Vilsack.

Vilsack has conceded he is far less well known than many of his potential rivals, but isn't worried.

"I've always been an underdog," he said. "I've always been a long shot."

He said he learned the value of hard work while growing up in Pittsburgh, "and I can tell you that value has never left me."

Speaking later to about 100 people at a local Democratic Committee meeting, Vilsack recalled the invaluable lesson he learned from his mother, who overcame alcoholism.

"She taught me that lesson _ that the courage to change can overcome impossible odds," he said.

He also touched briefly on the war in Iraq and the need for energy alternatives. Vilsack said he favors pulling U.S. troops from dangerous areas and insisting Iraqi leaders take steps to quell the escalating violence and decide the future of their country.

"We have created a culture of dependency in Iraq," Vilsack said. "It's their country, it's their future and they should be willing to fight for it and they certainly should be willing to die for it."

Vilsack, an orphan, was adopted by a Pittsburgh family shortly after birth and keeps close ties to the city. He and his family _ which includes wife Christie and sons Jess and Doug _ have visited many times.

Christie Vilsack said the second thing she found out about her husband when they met in 1968 at Hamilton College in New York was that he was an ardent Pittsburgh Pirates fan. The first thing she found out? That, like her, he supported Hubert Humphrey over Richard Nixon for president.

On Saturday, Vilsack stood in the kitchen of the modest brick house where he grew up, though it is now owned by another family. Later, as the Vilsacks walked to a coffee shop with reporters, well-wishers, politicians and campaign staff in tow, Vilsack paused briefly at an intersection a block from his childhood home.

"This is an important street. This is the street of the first kiss. Not with you, sweetheart," he told his wife, as they laughed.

Vilsack returned to Iowa Saturday night fort an elegant fundraiser at the Temple for the Performing Arts in downtown Des Moines. Guests were decked out in their holiday best, sipping wine and munching on items ranging from salmon to pasta to special sandwich wraps.

Vilsack told his home-state backers they can form the base of his campaign, which he'll devote all his time to after leaving office in January.

"The strength in this country is not in the strength of its political leaders," Vilsack said. "The strength of this nation is every single person in this room."

© 2006 The Associated Press