DES MOINES—Three sources told TheIowaRepublican.com that U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with officials at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) this week to discuss a potential run for U.S. Senate.
A Vilsack Senate run could increase the Democrats’ chances of holding on to the seat, but it could inflame internal party tensions as Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, the anointed successor of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has already announced a bid.
Jerry Crawford, a Des Moines attorney, did not dispute the report of a Vilsack-DSCC meeting. Crawford, Vilsack’s political consigliere, spent the early part of this week in Washington. A spokesman for the DSCC did not reply to a request for comment.
USDA Communications Director Matt Paul, a Vilsack aide dating back to his tenure as governor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Paul said that Vilsack had a packed schedule Wednesday and spent Thursday in San Antonio, Tex. but he declined to confirm or deny whether Vilsack met with the DSCC Mon. or Tues.
“Might want to give those sources a hard time,” Paul said, “It’s the silly season.”
Braley met with DSCC officials Jan. 31. The committee, Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, is officially neutral. Braley, though, shares a chief consultant, Jeff Link, and a fundraiser, Jeremy Gold, with Harkin, and Harkin has all but endorsed Braley.
“I appreciate that Senator Harkin has made this decision so early in the cycle, giving us ample time to recruit a strong Democratic candidate for this seat,” said Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., the DSCC chair, in a statement after Harkin announced his retirement. “Iowa has a strong record of electing great Democrats, and I’m confident that we will elect a new Democratic senator next November.”
Political operatives in both parties view Vilsack, 62, as a formidable contentor for Iowa’s open Senate seat. Vilsack remains popular after serving two terms as governor from 1999-2007. He’s probably the only Iowa Democrat with enough stature to challenge Braley in a primary.
The Register didn’t test a Braley-Vilsack primary match-up, but Vilsack enjoys a higher “appealing” rating as a statewide candidate. He has a 56 percent “appealing” rating, outpacing his negative rating by 21 points. Braley’s rating of 36-33 [+3] was less than Rep. Tom Latham, R-Clive, who had a 40-34 [+6] rating. All other candidates tested had negative favorability rankings.
“This is the kind of poll finding that launches campaigns,” said J. Ann Selzer, the Register’s pollster, who conducted the poll of 802 Iowans Feb. 3-6.
UPDATE: The Des Moines Register reports this morning that Vilsack has passed on a Senate run.