Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Presidential hopeful woos valley voters

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack voices his plan

Express Staff Writer

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack speaks after a town hall meeting at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum Friday, Dec. 29. Photo by Rebecca Meany

When can the governor of a Midwest state draw a crowd of nearly 100 Blaine County residents the day before a holiday weekend?

When that politician has his sights set on the White House.

Gov. Tom Vilsack, along with his wife, Christie, unveiled his platform to a crowd of the curious at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum Friday, Dec. 29.

"The reason Christie and I are here ... is because we want to send a message: Democrats running should campaign everywhere in the country," he said. You are a fast-growing state. That creates issues. It's important to be in every state so you have a full understanding of the issues.

"There's something going on out (West) that the Democratic Party nationally should pay attention to."

Vilsack was elected Iowa's 39th governor in 1998, the first Democratic governor in the state in more than 30 years. He was re-elected to a second four-year term in 2002.

"I'm in this race because I'm a proven winner and a tested leader," he said in an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express. "I have the talent and capability of addressing problems America faces. As a governor, that's what you do. As a president, that's what I would do."

Vilsack said he's in a position to expand Democrats' usual campaign, in large part because of his experience in Iowa.

"The character has changed from Republican to Democrat," he said. "I believe we've done it by working with people, listening and trying to find common ground and common purpose."

Vilsack said there's an anxiety in the country, especially among the middle class, regarding the cost of health care, higher education, insurance and job security.

"You aren't going to be fully appreciative of these (issues) unless you travel to all parts of the country," he said. "It isn't just about the Democratic states or the Republican states. It's about the United States."

Building infrastructure is key to invigorating the economy and providing opportunities, he said, adding that the Bush administration's handling of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast was a "failure."

"I believe in an America that works for all folks," he said. "We have to energize the economy so it works for everyone."

Getting high-speed Internet to rural areas and creating transportation systems that use "smart" technology should be part of the equation.

"There's a need for a comprehensive effort to align infrastructure with the economy of today," he said. "At best, we've got 19th century infrastructure with a 21st century economy."

Investing in clean, renewable energies is a major chapter in Vilsack's playbook.

While governor of Iowa, Vilsack said he offered incentives for ethanol and wind energy production.

"Every state has its own opportunities in renewables," he said. "The national government can play an integral role (in that)."

Part of making renewable energy sources part of a national system, he said, is creating educated children who aren't simply good test-takers, but students who know how to think and be creative.

On the world front, Vilsack favors a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq, especially in the most violence-prone areas, like Baghdad. He also said he doesn't support going into debt to countries like China to finance the deficit.

"There's a fundamental change that needs to take place," he said. "As Democrats, we need to inspire that."

Vilsack is not alone in his quest to win the Democratic nomination. Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a one-time vice presidential candidate, announced in late December his intentions to seek his party's nomination. Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden also said he intends to run, according to The Washington Post.

Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois have not announced their candidacies but are widely believed to have such plans.

"I think there's a tremendous opportunity for my party," Vilsack said. "We have a say in the direction of government with the takeover of Congress. We need to get things done and listen to what regular folks want and not private, special interests. And I think that's going to happen. That's good news for Democrats across the country."

"The challenge is how do we create a message throughout the country ... that will resonate and mandate change," he said.

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