When Iowa ex-Governor Tom Vilsack announced his candidacy for the presidency two months ago he was immediately labeled as a ‘long shot.’ While there are some similarities to the successful long-shot bid then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton launched in 1992, the hill Vilsack must climb is much steeper.
Both Clinton and Vilsack served multiple terms as governors—Vilsack in the heartland, Clinton just south of it. Both served states that are generally viewed as purple: both have seen a fairly mixed party representation to the US House, Senate, as well as the Governor’s office over the years. Arkansas usually votes for Republican presidents, but not in blow out races (John Kerry lost by just nine points in 2004). Iowa and Arkansas are also low on Electoral College votes (Iowa with 7, Arkansas with 6).
But the similarities end there. For one, Vilsack—while not old by any stretch—is not the dynamic ‘boy wonder’ Clinton was when elected in 1992: Vilsack is 56, Clinton was 46. Clinton’s campaign and presidency was nearly derailed a few times with personal (rumors of affairs, avoiding the Vietnam draft) and political (Whitewater) scandals, while Vilsack’s image is comparatively squeaky clean (and, perhaps as a corollary, a bit more dry as well).
But the biggest difference Vilsack will face in 2007 compared to Clinton in 1991 is his competition: Visack is facing at least two bonafide political superstars—one seasoned (Hillary Clinton) and one novice (Barack Obama). The candidates Bill Clinton had to defeat on his rise to the party’s nomination in 1992 were ‘solid statesmen,’ but not superstars—three U.S. Senators (Tom Harkin of Iowa, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, and Paul Tsongas, former Senator of Massachusetts) in addition to a few Democratic Party retreads (Jerry Brown and Eugene McCarthy).
If Clinton’s ascent was a ‘long-shot’ 15 years ago, they may have to invent a new word for Vilsack should he beat the odds and win the party’s nod in 2008.