Christie Vilsack has been running for Congress in Iowa’s newly reconfigured fourth district for over a year now. Vilsack received her first donation to her campaign from her husband on April 19th last year. She then rented out an Ames duplex in June before officially launching her candidacy in mid-July from the Memorial Union at Iowa State University.
Long before Vilsack made it known that she would challenge Congressman Steve King in the 2012 election, many in the media often speculated that she would run for office one day. In 2008, Des Moines Register Columnist, David Yepsen, included the former First Lady as a potential challenger to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. Vilsack wisely took a pass, but when any Iowa political reporter needed to speculate about possible Democrat candidates, Christy Vilsack’s name was often the first one to roll off their tongues.
If there is anything that political reporters in Iowa obsess about, it’s that Iowa has yet to send a female representative to Washington D.C. or elect one to govern the state. Their zeal to find the candidate to break through the glass ceiling is understandable, since only Iowa and Mississippi share the distinction of never electing a female to a federal post or to the governorship. However, in the media’s unending search to find the ultimate female candidate, they tend to overhype and take it easy on some female candidates.
One only needs to look that the recent campaigns of Becky Greenwald in 2008, and Roxanne Conlin in 2010. The Des Moines Register did all it could to make Greenwald’s challenge to Congressman Tom Latham to look like a real battle. Despite having Barack Obama and Tom Harkin on the top of the Democrat ticket, Latham won easily with 59 percent of the vote, while Greenwald couldn’t break the 40 percent threshold.
Iowans were sold a similar story in 2010, when Roxanne Conlin ran against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. That year wasn’t nearly as good of a year as 2008 was for Democrats, but Grassley was never really threatened by Conlin. Grassley won that race with 63 percent of the vote, Conlin finished with just 33 percent of the vote. To understand how poorly Conlin faired that year, Christopher Reed, the Republican challenger to U.S. Senator Tom Harkin in 2008, garnered 36 percent of the vote, and spent two million dollars less doing it.
This cycle, Christy Vilsack is the apple of the media’s eye as she challenges Congressman Steve King in the most Republican leaning district in the state. To be fair, Vilsack does have two attributes that make her a formidable candidate – she is well known after serving as Iowa’s First Lady for eight years, and she has proven to be an excellent fundraiser, although most of the money that she has raised has come from outside of the district.
Other than Vilsack’s high name ID and fundraising prowess, candidate Vilsack doesn’t offer much substance on the issues that most Iowans are concerned about. Nowhere has Vilsack’s lack of substance been more evident than in her appearance on Iowa Press last weekend.
Vilsack was asked basic questions on topics ranging from Obamacare to gay marriage. Time after time, Vilsack simply refused to take a position. She was asked if she supported the individual mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. After being asked the question three separate times, Vilsack replied by telling the reporters, “I’m not for it or against it [the mandate].
Vilsack also blew off a question on abortion. She actually chastised those who are talking about abortion issues, saying it’s not an issue that people care about. Yet, a high dollar fundraising invitation for an event she is holding in Arkansas on June 21st states that Vilsack is described as a “family planning advocate.” In fact, the invitation states that she’s a pro-abortion advocate before it says that she’s a former First Lady of the state of Iowa.
During her Iowa Press appearance, Vilsack also went out of her way to call the Balanced Budget Amendment nothing more than a gimmick, not once, but twice. It’s hard to understand how making it a constitutional requirement to balance the budget every year is a gimmick. Actually, Vilsack’s opposition to the balanced budget amendment makes her seem like a defender of the Washington culture that voters despise. Even a liberal like Congressman Bruce Braley has come around to support the amendment.
The King campaign and Republican activists were quick to start talking about Vilsack’s pathetic performance on Iowa Press, but it got Democrats talking, too. Top Democrats in the state are apoplectic about Christie Vilsack’s performance on Iowa Press last week. “Completely unprepared,” “unbelievable,” “just short of embarrassing,” “deer in the headlights,” are the terms being thrown about.
Once thought to be the bright spot of the federal races in Iowa and a solid chance to pick off Congressman Steve King, Democrats now are worrying that “nothing short of a complete intervention” is needed to right the ship.
The fear among Democrats is twofold. First, Vilsack needs help or else she will get overpowered by King’s campaign, which seems finely tuned. “She’s been running for six months and doesn’t appear to have internalized anything constituents or her staff have told her,” noted a Democratic source. “She looked like a rookie on that show, it made me cringe,” the source added.
Second, and more troubling to some Democrats, is the possibility of angering Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “This is akin to going to Bill Clinton and telling him Hillary’s campaign is floundering,” the Democrat source said. “You know you’re right, and you know she needs help, but you don’t want to stand in front of a blowtorch and take the response.”
If it wasn’t for the media’s constant over-hyping of Vilsack’s campaign against Congressman King, maybe we wouldn’t be so surprised. This is the candidate who refused to tell Fourth District voters where she stood on issues, and even instructed people to answer their own questions so that she could take in their positions during her “listening tour.” Worse yet, Vilsack has told voters, “I don’t have solutions… If you want someone who knows answers, I’m probably not the person you want.”
I doubt that Iowans in the Fourth District are all that interested in electing a representative who ducks serious questions and isn’t all that truthful when it comes to issues like gay marriage or abortion. The only thing Vilsack offers is her out-of-state fundraising abilities that will do nothing but pollute the airwaves with negative ads this fall. It’s safe to say that Christie Vilsack is not the Democrat mega-candidate some thought she would be.
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