IA-Gov: Sounds like Tom Vilsack is out

Iowa Democrats hoping that U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack would come home to challenge Governor Terry Branstad next year will be disappointed by the latest news out of Washington.

Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack announced through a spokesperson in early February that she would not run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 “because she is looking into another exciting opportunity.” I’d heard rumors about a job offer in the federal government, but nothing concrete.

Yesterday Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register confirmed that Vilsack has started working as a senior advisor for international education at the United States Agency for International Development.

She starting working on March 11 for USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment. The bureau, known as E3, helps orchestrate USAID’s policy, working closely with regional bureaus and the agency’s missions abroad.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah told The Des Moines Register in a statement: “We are lucky to have such an accomplished and passionate champion of education joining our ranks.”

Vilsack will focus on children’s reading skills, workforce development, and equitable access to education in crisis and conflict settings, USAID spokesman Kamyl Bazbaz said. […]

At USAID, she will “expand USAID’s outreach to education partners, through USG inter-agency, donor and multilateral engagement including the Global Partnership for Education and the UN’s Global Education First Initiative,” Bazbaz said. “Utilizing her extensive experience building partnerships, Christie will work to build our relations with the private sector, universities, faith-based organizations, and non-traditional partners to achieve the objectives of the USAID education strategy.”

Tom Vilsack broke a 30-year losing streak for Iowa Democrats in governor’s races when he came from behind to defeat Representative Jim Ross Lightfoot in 1998. (Insert obligatory reference to “totally nude dancing” here.) Vilsack was re-elected without too much trouble in 2002, a mostly bad year for Democrats nationwide, defeating Doug Gross by 52.7 percent to 44.5 percent.

To all appearances, Vilsack enjoys his work at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and he’s got unfinished business there since Congress failed to approve a new long-term farm bill in 2012. I would have been surprised to see him leave President Obama’s cabinet to enter the governor’s race. That scenario seems even less likely with Christie Vilsack taking a new full-time job based in Washington.

Several Iowa legislators are considering the gubernatorial race, including Senate President Pam Jochum and Senators Jack Hatch and Rob Hogg.

I’ve also heard rumors that Andrea “Andy” McGuire may run against Branstad, or possibly Representative Tom Latham in Iowa’s third Congressional district. A Waterloo native, McGuire was a staff physician at the VA hospital in Des Moines and later chief medical officer of the American Republic Insurance company. She left that position in early 2012 to become president and chief operating officer for a private Medicaid HMO plan in Iowa. She was Mike Blouin’s running mate during the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary. At that time, Chet Culver’s campaign attacked her for having been a registered Republican at one point and having donated to some Republican candidates. McGuire was a prominent Iowa supporter of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Any comments about the governor’s race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: In Saturday’s Des Moines Register, Dan Piller reported that the Vilsacks are buying a house in Dallas County, near the home of his son’s family.

When reporters asked Vilsack whether he’s eying the governor’s job, which he held for two terms from 1999 to 2007, he answered: “I already have a job.” […]

Branstad told the Register: “I love my job. The best way to lay the groundwork for another campaign is to do a good job.”

“I don’t have to announce anything until next year,” Branstad said after attending the ceremony, which featured a new agreement between DuPont and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to manage the corn stover from DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol plant now under construction near Nevada.

Branstad noted that his predecessor, Robert Ray, was known for his last-minute announcements for re-election, a strategy thought to deter any would-be primary opponents.

  • I've spent years

    searching for a clip of that ad, but all I ever find is ACTUAL totally nude dancing. Strictly research, of course.

  • Little chance

    Even prior to this news, vilsack insiders put the possibilities at 80-20 against.  Some prominent  group or person would have to go to him and convince him he needed to come home for the sake of his state. That list would be short, and exclusive. I’ve heard a couple names he might listen to. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out who they are.

    Speaking of house 03 dems – how would an Appel McGuire primary play out?

    • I agree with you

      the Vilsack for governor speculation always sounded like wishful thinking to me.

      I can’t see both Staci Appel and Andy McGuire running in an IA-03 primary. If one of them runs against Mike Sherzan, the other will stay out.  

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