Vilsack & the Polk County edge

About 200 people crowded into a room at the back of the Dos Rios restaurant in downtown Des Moines after work today, at the invitation of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaing.  Some of the people in the room had supported Obama in the Caucuses, but the event was for the rest — those who had been keen supporters of other candidates.

The main focus was on carrying Polk County by a wide margin.  Joe Kennedy, Obama’s regional field director for Polk County, was the first to introduce himself to the crowd.  Jackie Norris, Obama’s state director, was next.  Norris began by praising those in the room who had backed other candidates.  "We all worked our hearts out," Norris said of the Caucus campaign, ending with a plea for precinct-level organizing for Obama.  "…It’s time to get our hands dirty again." 

Next up, Attorney General Tom Miller who endorsed Obama in February, 2007.  He argued it was important to carry Polk County — Iowa’s most populous county and home to its largest city — by a "wide margin."

Miller praised, by name, the other Democrats who sought their party’s 2008 presidential nomination, ending with praise for Hillary Clinton and her performance in the long primary season.  "I admire her even more now…We all owe an awful lot to Hillary Clinton," Miller said.  There was was seemed to be a brief pause, then the crowd began to applaud. Miller then introduced former Governor Tom Vilsack, who endorsed Hillary Clinton in the spring of 2007 (after he ended his own campaign for the White House) and who endorsed Obama after he secured the nomination.  Vilsack made a case that Polk County’s crucial if Obama’s to win Iowa’s seven electoral votes.

"I certainly would not have been elected were if it hadn’t been for a strong showing in Polk County," Vilsack said.  "…In 2000, Al Gore won Polk County by 10,000 votes.  Now, that seems a wide margin.  He lost Sioux County by 10,000 votes which is why it was so difficult for (Gore) to win this state and in 2004 we did an enormous effort to get as many Democrats as possible to the polls, but the other side did a slightly better job and we lost Iowa. Folks, Iowa is critical to this election.  The next president of the United States will be the person who wins Iowa and for us to win Iowa, Polk County can’t just a 10,000 margin.  It has to be double that.  It has to be triple that."  The crowd applauded.  A man in back yelled, "Absolutely!"

"That doesnt’ happen by just simply having a great candidate," Vilsack continued.  "That doesn’t happen by a candidate who’s no doubt going to give a stirring convention speech.  That’s not going to happen by all the paid advertsiing, that the campaign will be able to afford. That isn’t going to happen by all the talking heads and by all the talk shows.  The only way it happens is for everyone in this room to leave this room tonight dedicated to the proposition that they will do everything they humanly can do to make sure Barack Obama wins Polk County by a wide margin and wins Iowa and wins the election…I’m prepared to do my part. Are you prepared to do yours?"

Click here to download the 8 minute-long mp3 of Vilsack’s speech.

Christie Vilsack, a key Iowa supporter of Hillary Clinton, stood at her husband’s side, but did not speak to the crowd.

I asked Mrs. Vilsack about a comment she made in 2007.  "You said there’s a special place in heaven for women who vote for women politicians.  There are some women who supported Clinton who are upset that her candidacy has ended.  What is your message to them?" I asked.

"My message is that we’re all Democrats," Christie Vilsack replied, "…It’s really important that we support the party’s choice and so we’ll be going to the convention and we’re going to be voting for and supporting Barack Obama because we’re good Democrats and because he’s a great candidate and an inspiring candidate."

Christie Vilsack said at the end of a primary, everyone puts their "differences aside" and then works for the choice of their party.  She also reminisced, a bit, about her husband’s run for president.

"You know, when you make the decision to run for president you basically decide that you’re willing to give up your life for your country and I think everybody who has been a part of this race has given something to it and certainly we did and Senator Clinton gave a huge amount and so the candidate who is running is a collaboration because all of the issues….it’s about everybody moving forward," she said.  "One person, in the end, gets to win but it’s really about everything that we all contributed whether it’s Chris Dodd or Joe Biden or any of those people, so that’s the way we saw it from the very beginning.  We’re all in this together.  One person gets to carry the flag in the end and we’re going to be marching right behind him.".

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.