Jeremy Broussard, an Iraq war veteran, was wrapping up a pep talk to Democratic volunteers in Des Moines on Saturday when a sweaty man in white cap and running gear walked into the cavernous room and, to growing applause, snatched away the microphone. It was Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, breaking away from a solo, mini-marathon, to offer his own personal exhortation to the faithful.

He called Iowa the key to the election and, in a twist on the Bush campaign's "wolves" ad, Vilsack called the president "a sheep in wolf's clothing" who he said was trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the voter.

He also talked about the determination of an old friend and union member recently who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is fighting to stay alive a few more months. "He said, 'I want to be around in January because I want to see Kerry inaugurated,'" Vilsack said.

Done in a matter of minutes, Vilsack paused outside to say he had rarely seen such enthusiasm among Democrats, noting the sizeable crowd getting ready to go knock on doors included teachers, union members, elected officials and even, as he put it, "some really rich people."

"I've never seen this before," he said.

Asked why, with such energy on the Democratic side, Iowa remained so close, he said, "The fact that the president's lived here." Ticking off other reasons, he added, "Laura Bush has been very effective."

With former president Bill Clinton starting to hit the campaign trail, Vilsack, who earlier submitted a list of nine things he needed from the Kerry campaign to carry the state, was asked whether he would like to see Clinton come to Iowa before next Tuesday.

"We don't need Clinton," he said. "We need the guys [Kerry and Edwards] coming back."

With that, the slimmed down governor popped his CD player back into his ears and resumed his run, last seen loping east along Locust Avenue, a solitary runner on the streets of Des Moines.