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.

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Iowa Democrats headed to Denver

The Iowa Democratic Party this afternoon released a list of its delegates to the Democratic National Conention in Denver August 25-28, 2008.  The list is below.  Of note:  the state party chairman had the authority to name the final "super" delegate from Iowa, and he chose Mari Culver, wife of Governor Chet Culver.  Mari Culver publicly endorsed John Edwards on December 17, 2007 — shortly before the Iowa Caucuses.  She was in the crowd at Obama’s May 20, 2008 rally in Des Moines (her husband was out of town).

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HRC, Richardson, Biden at Polk County Dems

Polk County Democrats are holding some sort of BBQ this evening on the Iowa State Fairgrounds and three of the presidential candidates intend to speak to the throng.  Each of the three has young boosters positioned outside this Morton Building (if you’re a farm kid, you know what that is; the "official" name of the thing is Wanut Center) and they’re chanting.  The Edwards kids were shouting: "We love Elizabeth.  We love John.  We want to see them on the White House lawn."

Polk County activist Betty Brim-Hunter told the crowd:  "Caucuses are very expensive and this is the way we raise money."  This being the auction of items they’re hoping will raise money, as well as the ticket price for the meal.

Next, Polk County Chairman Tom Henderson (no relation) spoke.  He got the biggest swell of applause from the crowd when he mentioned the recent Gallup Poll which showed Bush’s job approval rating at 29 percent.  No mention of the popularity of congress (or lack thereof).

Delaware Senator Joe Biden was the first in the room, and he chatted with a group of reporters, saying he intends to stay in the race ’til the end.  This in answer to a question about Brownback’s withdrawal and whether there might be others not doing so well in fundraising or in the polls (like himself) who might be pondering such a move.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was second in the room.  He did a live shot at the end of a local TV newscast, then went outside to answer a few questions from reporters.  Richardson vows to "respect Iowans" and stay away on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days, but told reporters he intends to spend a good deal of time here in advance of the Caucuses, whenever they are.  He also wishes he knew when they would be.

Then, Biden took the stage, beginning with a thank you as he said Iowans give candidates who don’t have the big chunks of dough to be competitive, otherwise he said the nomination would be determined by who had the most cash. Biden told the crowd he was given 10 minutes to speak.  He went 17 minutes. After his address, former Senator Jim Riordan auctioned off a pair of Senate cuff links donated by Biden.  I cannot hear how much they brought, but it seemed like $20.  The next item sold for $30.  Cuff links always remind me of Pat Buchanan, as he wore such nice ones while campaigning in Iowa.

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The gridiron & the grill

A few presidential candidates plan to do the shake-and-howdy thing at tailgaters in Ames tomorrow in the hours running up to kick-off of the Iowa/Iowa State football game.  Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is hosting a tailgate and plans to drop by the Iowa College Republicans’ tailgater.  Kansas Seantor Sam Brownback will stop by the College GOPers party.  Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd will not only tailgate, he’s got a ticket to the big game.  No, he didn’t buy season tickets (for you out-of-state readers:  ISU’s athletic director a few months ago announced there would be no single-game ticket sales for Cyclone home games, so if you wanna go, you’ve got to buy a season ticket).  Dodd campaign spokeswoman Taylor West says Dodd will be the guest of someone (who apparently has season tickets). UPDATE:  Taylor West says the ticket Dodd will be using was purchased by the Iowa Democratic Party — from the University of Iowa’s allotment.)

The 30th annual Harkin Steak Fry is this Sunday.  Here’s a preview story that ran on Radio Iowa this morning.  Advance ticket sales were closing in on 10,000 late yesterday.  So the crowd could be larger than the all-time high at Harkin Steak Fry 2003 when Bill Clinton was the closer after all the ’03 candidates got to speak to the soggy crowd (it rained that year).  The Obama campaign has produced a video to urge the senator’s supporters to go.  It features an interesting camera angle on last year’s steak fry.  It shows Christie Vilsack in the lower left corner of the screen reacting to Harkin calling Obama a "rock star" second only to Bono, at a time when her husband, Tom Vilsack, was making it clear he planned to run for president.  When Vilsack got his turn at the mic at the 2006 Harkin steak fry — after witnessing all the attention Obama was getting that day — Vilsack took a dig at Obama.  Vilsack started by calling Harkin the finest senator in the country.  "With all due respect, Senator Obama, it is after all the Harkin steak fry," Vilsack added.

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Clinton at AFSCME in DSM

It’s 10 ’til seven on a Friday night.  I’m standing in the courtyard of the Holiday Inn across from the Des Moines International Airport at a bar — but the bar is not in use.  I’m looking down on an area covered by green (yes, it’s fake grass turf). dotted by tables covered in red-checkered tablecloths.  AFSCME members are seated around those tables, chowing down on dinner.  In a few moments, we’re told, New York Senator Hillary Clinton will speak to this 15th biennial state convention of AFSCME Council 61.  John Edwards was here yesterday; Bill Richardson was here earlier today; Barack Obama and Chris Dodd are due here tomorrow.

"You shook me all night long," is the phrase blaring out of the mouths of the two band members singing into microphones on the far end of the room.  They’ve encouraged the crowd to sing along with other standards, but according to Dave Price of WHO-TV it’s not been a successful effort because one rarely sings and eats at the same time.  At least not in polite company. 

It looks like pork chops, potatoes, salad, rolls and cake were on tonight’s buffet-style menu.  As "Honky Tonk Girl" blares out of the speakers, I count about 250 people seated.  There’s also a passel of people milling about.  I don’t recall "Honky Tonk Girl" being one of the Clinton campaign’s potential theme songs.  I don’t believe this is a band which includes Celine Dion standards in its repertoire. 

AFSCME International president Gerry McEntee is introducing Clinton. (An AFSCME person from Washington, D.C. called on Monday to say it wasn’t him, it was AFSCME’s Iowa president who was introducing Clinton. You can’t tell it from the recording because the sound guy was playing "Eye of the Tiger" — with reverb — over and under whomever was introducing Clinton.  The entire broadcast corps at the event was pleading with the audio guy to get the audio straightened out so we’d have clean audio of Clinton, but it took all of that introduction to get it done.  Go listen to the recording here to understand how bad it was.)  "She has a 98 percent AFSCME voting record," he says.  The crowd applauds.  "What’s Cheney’s voting record?  Or, never mind," he continues. The intro is short.  Now, Celine Dion IS singing Clinton’s campaign theme song (it’s a recording; Celine is not here).

"I am delighted to be here with all of you tonight and I want to thank Danny and his entire team.  I know how hard Danny and Marcia work to make an event like this happen," Clinton began, addressing the Iowa leadership of AFSCME.

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Clinton, Vilsack and money

In the past hour I’ve talked with Kiki McLean, a former Vilsack campaign spokeswoman who is still speaking for the now-defunct campaign.  I was quizzing her about the $20,000 check Hillary Clinton’s campaign cut Vilsack for "list expenses."  More about that in a moment.  Let’s go about this in chronological order:

1.  Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack dropped out of the presidential race on February 23, 2007.

2.  Vilsack & his wife, Christie, endorsed Clinton’s bid for the White House on March 26, 2007 at 11 a.m..

3.  Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times posts a story on-line at 8:37 p.m. on March 26, 2007 — quoting Clinton campaign sources — saying Clinton will help Vilsack retire his campaign debt.

4.  A couple of days later, Vilsack tells WHO-TV’s Dave Price he will be taking out a loan and paying off his $430,000 campaign debt himself. 

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Odds & Ends

Here are a variety of items and observations — in no particular order:

:: Huh?  As linked here earlier this week, Clinton campaign aides confirmed Senator Clinton has agreed to help retire former presidential candidate Tom Vilsack’s campaign debt.  Yet Vilsack today told WHO-TV something completely different — that he has taken out a loan and intends to pay off the debt himself. 

:: Governor Chet Culver was waiting in line for a sandwich at the statehouse cafeteria on Tueday when Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal jokingly tried to push two people ahead in line — in front of the governor.  (I asked the other statehouse reporters and we don’t remember seeing Tom Vilsack out standing in line for his own food when he was governor.)

:: Former Governor Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie, looked really tan on Monday when they endorsed Hillary Clinton.  Vilsack mentioned he’d been on his first "real" vacation in nine years.  Sources say the Vilsacks went to spring training — so they got those tans from sitting in the stands?

:: Those big, huge pots of coffee in the lounge located just off the House floor are hard at work on most days during the legislative session. This past Monday, though, it was so hot they made the coffee, but didn’t drain the pots.  That is a first, according to the doormen.  Wonder how much coffee was available?  In that one lounge, there are three pots of regular coffee and one pot of decaf.  EACH pot holds two gallons. (Thanks to Dean Fihr for finding out just how much coffee was made.)

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Vilsack says Hillary can do the “hand-holding”

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack ended his own Democratic presidential campaign on February 23 and on March 26 he formally endorsed former rival Hillary Clinton. (Radio Iowa story, with audio link at the end.)

The event was staged outside the picturesque Greenwood Elementary School in Des Moines — in the ritzy "south of Grand" neighborhood in Des Moines.  Two flags stood in front of the school’s doors — the Stars and Stripes and the Iowa flag.  A mic was placed on a lectern in the middle of a sidewalk, and a few charis were assembled between the lectern and the riser for media cameras.  Neighborhood people out for a morning stroll — one had her two gorgeous dogs out for a walk — stopped to watch, standing in the sunshine under barren tree branches.

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Vilsacks to endorse HRC

Just back from a trip to Europe and when I say just back, I mean the plane landed an hour ago…and the friend who picked me up at the airport said there was news here:  Tom Vilsack is endorsing Hillary Clinton tomorrow.

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Hillary Clinton buys legislators lunch

New York Senator Hillary Clinton met privately with the 30 Democrats who serve in the Iowa Senate this morning, and then over the noon-hour she met with 53 of the 54 Democrats in the Iowa House (#54 is on active duty in Iraq).  Her campaign provided donuts and juice for the senate meeting this morning. The house folks got a big noon-time spread:  ham, turkey, beef or veggie sandwiches; chips and "very yummy" monster cookies, according to one source. No word yet on whether the senators feel slighted.

After her private lunch-hour meeting, Clinton walked to a small bank of television cameras and DSM-area reporters standing along the rail in the statehouse rotunda. She answered a few questions about her sort of secretive appearance last week before a gay rights group, her energy policies, and her husband. 

Charlotte Eby of Lee Newspapers:  "Senator, you’ve talked about everyone doing their part to conserve energy.  Would you support an increase in the gas tax?"

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