By Craig Robinson
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s decision not to run for the United States Senate wouldn’t have been such a big deal had the Des Moines Register not fallen all over themselves with the results of their latest Iowa Poll.
The Register’s poll showed Vilsack as the most appealing potential candidate to Iowa voters. Vilsack’s popularity shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, let alone the Des Moines Register. After serving two terms, Vilsack stepped aside, not having lost his position as a result of a vote of the people. The man even ran for President of the United States, albeit just for a short time. Despite of what you may think of Vilsack’s politics and presidential campaign, he remains a popular and influential figure in Iowa politics.
Iowans also seems to like their former governors. Governor Robert Ray is still held in high regard, and voters thought enough of Terry Branstad to elect him again after a twelve-year hiatus. Vilsack’s high-profile job in the Obama administration also keeps his name in the news. The only Iowa politicians in the same league with Vilsack are Sen. Tom Harkin, who’s retiring from the job, Sen. Chuck Grassley, who already has the job, and Governor Terry Branstad, who’s never bashful in reminding people he wants nothing to do with Washington, D.C.
Vilsack was in a league of his own long before the Register thought of asking Iowans who they believe is the most appealing senate candidate. What’s strange is the extent to which the Register went to get him to run. “This is the kind of poll finding that launches campaigns,” the Register’s pollster Ann Selzer said of the result. While there is no denying Vilsack’s popularity, one also must realize that at this stage of the game, all these polls really gauge is a potential candidate’s name identification, and besides Grassley and Branstad, you’re not going to find a more well-known candidate than Vilsack.
The Register’s love affair with Vilsack running for the U.S. Senate was short lived. It only took Vilsack one week after the Register’s poll to announce that he wouldn’t run for the seat in 2014. That was welcome news to Congressman Bruce Braley, who had announced his candidacy they morning before the Register released the results of its poll. While it is good for Braley that Vilsack ended the speculation around a U.S. Senate bid quickly, Braley’s candidacy already suffered a blow when the Register fawned all over Vilsack, even with Braley officially in the race.
Vilsack met with the Register’s editorial board on Friday, and while he ended the speculation on a Senate run, the paper is now pushing the idea that Vilsack might challenge Branstad in 2014. Yet, when you look at Vilsack’s answers to an inquiry about running for governor, a gubernatorial campaign doesn’t seems quite as likely as the Register would have us believe.
Secretary Vilsack: “You know, I know what I’m doing now. And I know what I’m excited about doing. I made the mistake once in my political career of saying I’m never going to do something and turned around, I left the senate and I came back. I’m not going to do that again. But, at this point in time, I am the Secretary of Agriculture, and I’m excited about my job and interested in finishing the work I started.”
Vilsack went on to describe the fundraising differences between a federal race and governor statewide race such as the gubernatorial race, but nowhere did Vilsack indicate that he was actually contemplating a return to the governor’s office. All of the speculation on that front can be tracked back to the Des Moines Register, which seems to be more interested in making news than reporting the actual news.
It seems clear to me that Tom Vilsack isn’t on the verge of running for office anytime soon. Just look at his body language when being asked by Obradovich about running for governor. The problem with the Register’s recent behavior is that their infatuation with potential candidates makes it hard on the serious candidates who are actually thinking about running, or in Braley’s case, have already entered the race.
As a Republican, I enjoyed watching the Register blow off Braley like he was a second rate candidate, but all they really did was muddy the waters for a week. Now, by suggesting that Vilsack is interested in running for governor, they are muddying that race. That doesn’t really bother me either, but it’s going to be difficult for the actual campaigns to begin when the state’s largest newspaper is busy playing with smoke and mirrors.
Either the powers that be at the Register don’t mind turning their newspaper into a supermarket tabloid, or the only way they feel that they can break news is to make stuff up just so people like Vilsack have to confirm or deny.
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