IA-04: Vilsack promises "civility, responsibility and respect"

We already knew Christie Vilsack was running for Congress in the new fourth district, but today she made her candidacy official at events in Ames, Sioux City and Mason City. During her announcement speech and in a video released by her campaign, Vilsack didn’t mention four-term Republican incumbent Steve King by name. However, she drew clear contrasts with his political style, promising to bring the “Iowa values of civility, responsibility and respect” to Washington.

Bleeding Heartland discussed Vilsack’s strong early fundraising here. Follow me after the jump for her announcement video (with transcript) and highlights from her campaign rollout.  

Vilsack’s campaign released this two-minute video today:

The candidate mostly speaks to the camera, interspersed with footage of Vilsack meeting with voters. Throughout the video, the url ChristieVilsackforIowa.com is on screen. My transcript:

Christie Vilsack to camera: Hi, I’m Christie Vilsack. When I was growing up in Mount Pleasant, there was no stoplight where two highways met at the edge of town. When you came to the intersection, you had to make eye contact with the other driver and figure out who would go first.

That willingness to communicate and compromise is sorely lacking in Congress today. How can we make the tough decisions to rein in our deficit and get this economy back on track, when our leaders aren’t even talking?

I just finished a listening tour of the 39 counties that make up Iowa’s new fourth Congressional district. I met with folks from all walks of life, and people have the same concerns.

Iowans want problem-solvers representing us, not just partisan fighters. I’ve decided to run for Congress because I believe in our Iowa values of civility, responsibility and respect, and I want to bring those values to Washington.

I’ve spent my whole life as a teacher, trying to ensure that our children have the knowledge and skills to succeed, and as Iowa’s first lady, I got to know many of you as we worked to improve literacy and college-readiness across our state.

Everyone knows we face great challenges to our way of life, nothing is more important than creating economic opportunity, so our children can stay in Iowa and raise their own families here. We’ve got a lot of work to do–from supporting biofuels and wind power, to bringing broadband internet to our rural communities. That’s why we need leaders willing to lower their voices, and start lifting their sights.

I hope you can log on to ChristieVilsackforIowa.com and join our campaign. In the months ahead, I’ll be laying out my vision for how to create new jobs from Charles City to Sioux City and all the small towns in between.

Thanks for listening, and I look forward to seeing you out on the campaign trail.

I like how Vilsack speaks in her own voice instead of using a canned voice-over, but the generic message doesn’t do a lot for me. Every politician, regardless of party, claims to support creating new jobs, economic opportunity for our children, biofuels, etc. “How can we make the tough decisions to rein in our deficit and get this economy back on track?” strikes me as the wrong question. The undue emphasis on deficit reduction is driving our country’s leaders toward repeating Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s great mistake of 1937. To “get this economy back on track,” our leaders need to reject the politics of austerity, which could turn a jobless recovery into a double-dip recession. Vilsack either agrees with austerity politics or doesn’t want the hassle of making a case against it. So we’ll get a year of earnest promises to tackle the deficit when addressing unemployment is a much more urgent problem.

Back to the Vilsack video: her unspoken contrasts with King (“problem-solvers,” not “partisan fighters”; “lower their voices and start lifting their sights”) seem a bit too subtle. Then again, Vilsack has plenty of time to build a case against the incumbent. She can focus on her vision for a while.

On the plus side, Vilsack hasn’t taken any controversial position here that might offend someone. Promising to show “civility” and “respect” may appeal to independents who are turned off by partisan bickering. King is one of the hyper-partisans in Congress. As of July 2011, the new fourth Congressional district contained 178,295 active registered no-party voters, 176,419 Republicans and just 135,482 Democrats. The GOP’s voter registration edge gives King an advantage; to beat him, Vilsack will have to build a strong lead among independents in this huge district spanning 39 counties (map).

At her rollout events today, Vilsack stayed on the same message set in her video. The full prepared text of her announcement speech is on her campaign website. You can listen to her speech in Ames here. Excerpts:

As First Lady of Iowa for eight years, I had the privilege of traveling our state. I visited more than 500 Iowa libraries to promote literacy and early education. And in each small town and rural community, I recognized the same values as Mount Pleasant. I truly feel that each small town in Iowa is MY hometown.

I want my children and grandchildren – yes, I have one grandchild and another on the way – to have the same opportunity to grow and thrive in the Iowa I grew up in – where people know you and care about you and don’t hesitate to help you out.

To make sure that opportunity remains for families like yours and mine, I am announcing my candidacy to be your representative in Congress.

I believe in the future of our small cities and rural communities. As I’ve traveled the 4th District these past few months, I’ve seen a lot of positive things we can build on.

I am running for Congress because I believe the federal government has a role to play in helping our communities – large and small – survive and prosper. But that role must be focused – and sensible. […]

Like so many problems our nation is facing today, the answer won’t be found at one extreme or the other. We can’t solve our budget problems with all cuts or all tax increases. The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

In the Midwest, we know compromise isn’t a bad word – we need to be finding more common ground in Washington, not less.

And we cannot break our promise to the senior citizens of our country, who depend on the Social Security and Medicare programs they’ve paid into.

As I traveled the 4th District, I heard great concern from Iowa seniors about the Medicare changes recently passed by the House of Representatives. One gentleman told me that, at 80 years old, he doesn’t want to start shopping around for his health insurance.

I firmly believe that we can save Medicare without turning it into a voucher program that costs seniors thousands more each year to get the care they need. And as the representative for this district, I will fight to preserve it. […]

And speaking of partnerships, there’s another thing my listening tour taught me. Iowans are sick of the partisanship and finger-pointing that has poisoned our politics and blocked progress.

They want us to be civil in our dealings with each other – the same kind of civility they show to their neighbors.

Now, we have differences in Iowa. But we don’t let them divide us. I like to say that if I didn’t have Republican friends in Mount Pleasant, I wouldn’t have many friends. But even when we have disagreements, we never stop talking to each other. And we know it takes compromise to get important things done.

That’s what Iowans want and expect from our government. They want our leaders in Washington to lower their voices and raise their sights.

I’m not entering this campaign to run AGAINST someone. I’m running FOR something – the idea that we can still work with one another on behalf of the common good.

Democrats across the country are campaigning against Republican plans for Medicare, and Iowa’s new fourth district is one of the oldest in the country. Expect to hear a lot more from Vilsack about this issue. In April, King voted with most House Republicans for Paul Ryan’s budget, which would transform Medicare into a voucher program for Americans currently under age 55. The 80-year-old Vilsack mentioned in her speech won’t be sent out shopping for health insurance, but today’s 50-year-old might have to do so in retirement.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already paid for some robocalls in the district highlighting King’s “vote to end Medicare.” Americans United for Change briefly ran a television spot attacking King’s Medicare vote as well.

Several media accounts of Vilsack’s speech included this passage:

Our current federal budget deficit offends me as a child of Iowa. […] So I know the value of a dollar, including the ones we pay in taxes. And it offends me when those hard-earned dollars are wasted or given away to those who don’t need them.

But it also offends me when some of the wealthiest people in this country and some of our most profitable corporations are not asked to pay their fair share in taxes. It’s like showing up at the potluck without bringing a covered dish.

The line drew a laugh from the assembled Democrats. I don’t know whether IA-04 voters will view resisting tax increases as similar to lacking basic etiquette at a potluck dinner, but opinion polls consistently show that most Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy as part of the solution to our national deficit. King insists that the deficit be eliminated solely through spending cuts, without raising tax rates on even the wealthiest Americans or closing loopholes that benefit profitable industries.

Taking questions from journalists today, Vilsack repeated key points from her speech: we need to create jobs, because that’s what people really care about; we must protect seniors by protecting Medicare and Social Security; her message will resonate with voters because it’s “right in the middle”; we need to lower our voices and lift our sights; she feels very at home in the district, having traveled to every part of this state as first lady.

Vilsack out-raised King during the last quarter and has more money in the bank than King or Iowa’s Democratic House incumbents Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell. She appears likely to have the resources to bring her message to voters throughout the district. No challenger to King has ever been able to afford significant district-wide paid media.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and several of its leaders have already donated to Vilsack’s campaign. Perhaps the DCCC will spend money later on negative advertising, allowing Vilsack to use most of her resources to spread a positive message.

Iowa Republicans are eager to point out that relatively few donors to Vilsack’s Congressional campaign live in the new IA-04. They will paint her as a carpet-bagger who doesn’t understand or share the values of Iowans in the district. She pre-empted that argument today by saying, “In each small town and rural community, I recognize the same values as Mount Pleasant. I truly feel that every small town in Iowa is my hometown.”

Will voters accept Vilsack and embrace her goal of moving Congress toward compromise in the reasonable middle? King’s extreme rhetoric sometimes embarrasses even members of his own party, but the district’s partisan lean and the powers of incumbency work in his favor.

Share any thoughts about the IA-04 campaign in this thread.

UPDATE: Reading this piece by Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal gave me a bad feeling about Vilsack’s prospects:

I asked whether she would have voted for the February 2009 federal stimulus or early 2010 federal health care reform, which passed with Democratic majorities.

“I don’t do hypotheticals,” she answered. […]

Talking campaign strategy, Vilsack told me the issues will come out as the campaign unfolds. She said she wanted the announcement to be her regurgitating back the things, the “values” she heard from Iowans during a spring “listening tour” when she was weighing a congressional bid.

Vilsack said she will initially talk about “themes,” such as how Iowans value education and how that can be supported by the federal government.

“Themes will be more important to me than particular issues,” she asserted.

Good luck with that.

  • Definitely looking forward

    to following this race from afar. She will be a Democratic hero if she knocks King off. With her fundraising ability and improved political climate for Democrats (compared to 2010), it seems possible, even if not likely.  

    • I think she needs

      to stand for specific ideas and policies–a general message of “I’m not rude and loud like some people in Washington” won’t cut it. Supposedly the policy specifics are coming later.

    • also

      I am not convinced the political climate will be much better for Democrats than 2010–not if unemployment’s at 10 percent and we’re in a double-dip recession, which is a plausible scenario.

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.