Christie Vilsack’s futile attempt to defeat Steve King in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District has earned the former Iowa first lady a dubious honor. According to Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg, Vilsack’s expensive foray into Iowa’s most conservative district and subsequent eight point defeat earned her “The Most Overhyped Candidate of 2012” award.
Here’s what Rothenberg wrote:
“But this year’s winner of the “Kay Barnes Overhyped Candidate Award” is Christie Vilsack, wife of Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and current secretary of Agriculture. She drew just 45 percent of the vote against Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King.
Democrats made Vilsack’s challenge to the conservative King a cause célèbre, but she really didn’t get close. Maybe district voters had the same impression of her that I did when I wrote about her “rope-a-dope strategy on big, ideological issues” in my Oct. 28, 2011, column, “Think You Can Be a Political Handicapper?”
Despite millions of dollars in spending, the support of Democrat heavyweights like Bill Clinton and plenty of help from liberal, special interest groups, Vilsack’s bid fell flat. In a year where Democrats clearly performed better than Republicans at the ballot box, Christie Vilsack underachieved.
Her bid was a sham from the beginning, a quixotic journey to unseat a conservative icon. Steve King represents everything liberals despise: low taxes, small government, earning your way, standing up for the unborn and defending family values. The Democratic Party wanted so desperately to unseat King, they convinced a well-liked former first lady of Iowa to move into an area she had never lived and deny everything she stood for.
It began with a “listening tour” around the district’s 39 counties. At stop after stop, Vilsack refused to answer questions on where she stood on the issues. She claimed to be on a search to discover “Iowa values”. How someone who grew up in Iowa and spent eight years in Terrace Hill could not know what values are most important to the people of the state is unconscionable.
Vilsack was simply mocking Iowa voters. She insulted their intelligence, pretending she held the same values as conservatives in Sioux and Lyon counties. During her listening tour, when someone asked for her help to block late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart from entering Iowa, or to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the state, she simply swatted the question away and said she would discuss it later. She never did.
Partisan media like TheIowaRepublican were not the only ones who noticed Vilsack’s shameless methods. Reporters were stunned by the audacity of someone who wanted to represent Iowans in the U.S. Congress refusing to say how she would represent them.
Vilsack was grilled by Radio Iowa’s Kay Henderson and the Des Moines Register’s Kathy Obradovich during an episode of “Iowa Press”. Trying desperately to avoid taking a stance on anything, Vilsack gave an embarrassing performance. Even Democrats shook their heads in disgust.
Then there were her debates with Congressman King. Although she repeatedly claimed she was not a “partisan fighter”, her actual methods proved otherwise. The formerly pleasant first lady became an attack dog from the opening minutes of the first contest. She called Steve King “an embarrassment”. It continued throughout each debate. Instead of providing answers or solutions, she constantly attacked.
Every single problem facing the country, from the deficit to the Iraq War to the farm bill, was Steve King’s fault. At least, that’s what she wanted voters to believe. She even attacked King for his support of the Fair Tax, but when asked about one of the key components of the plan, Vilsack was forced to admit her ignorance.
All six debates were exactly the same. The moderator asked Vilsack a question, she turned it into an attack on King. The act wore thin very quickly, and by the time of the fifth debate, held in Carroll, any intelligent voter could tell Christie Vilsack was out of her league.
Her campaign apparatus did not help matters, either. There was the matter of her campaign video that tried to hype Vilsack’s focus on education, but misspelled the title of the ad.
In another amusing episode, the Vilsack campaign was so desperate to try to collect dirt on Steve King, they actually donated $100 to King’s campaign so their intern could sneak into a fundraiser. Despite the intern’s camouflage, resembling a “Little House on the Prairie” outfit, it was immediately obvious who she was.
Vilsack tried to focus on agricultural issues, but the pandering to Iowa farmers clearly failed. Although her husband is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, not a single ag-related group supported Vilsack’s bid. More than 60 of them supported her opponent.
When awarding Vilsack the “Most Overrated Candidate”, Stu Rothenberg referenced his October 28 column. Her avoidance of the issues is very telling. She actually refused to take a stance on the 1964 Civil Rights Act because wasn’t in Congress at the time. Once again, Vilsack insulted Iowa voters:
“Naturally, I was excited to meet Vilsack, given her reputation. I found a candidate who is serious, measured in her responses and on message. I also found a candidate who would not take a position on whether she would have supported the Obama health care bill; the Colombia, South Korea and Panama free-trade agreements; or raising the debt ceiling. Her response each time was that she wasn’t in Congress so she didn’t have to decide how to vote. (In frustration, I jokingly asked her about the 1964 Civil Rights Act and received the same sort of response.)
Instead, Vilsack took any and every opportunity to highlight local issues and noncontroversial ideas that could help folks in the district. She wants more apprenticeships. She wants to offer tax credits to landowners who sell land to returning veterans. She wants to repair the nation’s infrastructure.
So, what I got was a classic rope-a-dope strategy on big, ideological issues — the kind of issues that people often use to characterize candidates. To me, that screamed out, “I’m a liberal, but I don’t want voters to know it, so I’ll couch everything in local and noncontroversial terms.” We’ll see whether voters have that same reaction.”
So, what did Vilsack’s candidacy accomplish? Nothing good for her or the Democrats. In fact, she helped Steve King. If Christie Vilsack could not come close to defeating him in a good year for Democrats, they guaranteed King’s seat is safe for another 10 years.
She also hurt her name brand. Christie Vilsack could have stayed in Mount Pleasant and likely defeated Dave Loebsack in a primary. Or she could have moved to Des Moines and unseated Leonard Boswell. She could have become Iowa’s first female congressional representative. Instead, Carpetbagger Christie shed her pleasant image, insulted the voters of Iowa and embarrassed herself. She also departed the Fourth District within days of the campaign’s conclusion.
The Democratic Party owes Christie Vilsack. Surely, there was a quid pro quo in exchange for her agreeing to challenge Congressman King. The question is, will the Democrats keep their end of the bargain? What reward will they grant Mrs. Vilsack?
The Iowa Democratic Party is looking for a new chairperson. I wholeheartedly support Christie Vilsack for this position. Perhaps she can damage their infrastructure in the same manner she harmed her own reputation.
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