Former Iowa first lady and current congressional candidate Christie Vilsack. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Christie Vilsack is one of those Democrats who may benefit from having Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the GOP presidential ticket. She’s been running against his budget proposals since she launched her campaign last year. Vilsack will face Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Her district has one of the oldest populations in the country and some of the nation’s most abundant farm land.

So how is she planning to address her concerns with Ryan’s plan? And is she taking any flack for the agricultural policies established by her husband, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack?

Read my interview with her below, conducted Monday at the Iowa State Fair. The transcript is edited for length and clarity:

2chambers: What was your reaction to the selection of Paul Ryan to serve as the Republican vice presidential candidate? How does his addition change your message or campaign?

I’ve been talking about the Ryan bill since I started. It’s one of the first things I talked about. My district has more seniors than many places in this country, and seniors want to make sure we follow up on our promise. We made a promise to them when they worked hard their whole lives, that they would have Social Security, that Medicare would take care of them that they would be able to enter a nursing facility. So we need to make sure we do that.

The Ryan budget is something I’ve been talking about the very beginning, and I’m going to continue talking about it. Steve King voted for it twice, and if you really look at the numbers at the money that comes out of conservation, if you look at the money that’s coming out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, if you look at the money that’s coming out of Pell Grants and look at the money coming out of Medicare, I don’t think people are going to be happy about that at all, especially people in my district.

And if you’re truly focused on the people of your district, if you’re making it local, you should be concerned about the 750,000 not about the ideology that my opponent is talking about.

How often are you hearing about drought concerns from voters?


This was supposed to be a tremendous crop, prices were supposed to be low because of that, and now, because the rains have come, the monsoon rains that drop 10 minutes of rain and move on, so some farmers — when I was in O’Brien County the other day, in a farmer’s field, he has one field that this week he’ll be chopping down and feeding to his livestock, because there were 3-inch ears and six-inch ears, not 12-inch ears. But he had various fields and other places on the other side of town that had gotten rain.

There will be people who make a lot of money, and there will be people who have nothing. That’s why it’s really important to have something so that people can plan for next year. Crop insurance will come this year, but you have to go to the bank, you have to buy everything for next year, and that’s where it becomes tricky.

Do you field any grief because your husband is in charge of the Agriculture Department?

No, because I believe that people on both sides of the aisle think he’s doing a good job. He brings all people to the table, that’s what he did as governor. I think he’s doing a good job.

I hear from people across the spectrum that he’s doing a good job. The farm economy’s better than it’s ever been. Even with the drought, this will be one of the best years probably in terms of the crops.

How has your district and Iowa changed in the last two years?

I think the change has been more incremental than that. My district... is a really cohesive district. Sioux City is an agricultural processing place. Ames, on the other side, is the research arm of agriculture, and everything in between is the richest agricultural land in the world.

We have the opportunity to take that next step and to recreate that middle class in the small towns by saying, okay, what can we make from the ethanol, the biodiesel after we’re done making the fuel part. Because, right now, Coca-Cola is moving to plastic bottles that are 100 percent bio-based. And Ohio State has created asphalt that’s stuck together with hog manure — it’s the best adhesive. And [for] every car they’re making off the assembly line in Detroit, soy beans are used to make the foam in that seat.

That’s going to be what keeps people in these communities and creates those good-paying jobs.

Who’s your favorite Republican?

Teddy Roosevelt, probably.

How about a living Republican?

Jim Leach represented me twice — because of redistricting. I think he is a congressperson who has always been able to really concentrate on issues and work across party lines.

(As the interview concluded, 2chambers noticed the Republican spotter who had been following Vilsack around videotaping her speeches and interaction with voters and interviews with reporters.) There are some members of Congress who wrote to the NRCC and DCCC that this concept of “spotters” needs to stop, because they’re staking out homes, following relatives to the grocery store. Is it a good idea? Should there perhaps be some kind of discussion about them?

People have a right to do this, as long as they stay out of the way of the candidates and allow us to participate in parades. But I think our time would be better spent talking about how we take so much money out of politics and make it transparent.

That’s an issue that, again, we’re spending a lot of time on issues that don’t affect the economic prosperity in the 4th District. So if I’m not talking about bringing jobs to small towns and making sure people can stay in the 4th District, then I think it’s just not the best use of our time.