- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said he doesn’t fear any of his fellow Democrats considering a run for president in 2008 and is happy to run as an underdog, even in his home state’s important caucus.

“I respect everyone who is running,” Mr. Vilsack said. “but I don’t fear anyone.”

Last week, he became the first to officially announce his candidacy for the Democrats’ 2008 presidential nomination.

In a meeting with reporters in Washington yesterday, however, the governor most frequently returned to criticism of Sen. John McCain and the Arizona Republican’s call for increasing troop levels in Iraq.

“I don’t believe he’s exercised particularly good judgment,” Mr. Vilsack said.

Mr. Vilsack was in Washington to work on his presidential campaign and meet with reporters. Afterward, he traveled to New York to attend a campaign fundraiser.

The two-term governor, who is retiring from his post in January, also questioned Mr. McCain’s credentials as a White House contender. “He has never been a governor. He’s never had to make specific decisions.”

A poll released yesterday by Rasmussen Reports shows Mr. McCain leading Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, in a potential White House match-up, 48 percent to 44 percent. Most polls show Mr. Vilsack near the back of the pack of potential Democratic candidates.

“I’ve always been the underdog,” he said.

When asked what plan for Iraq he’d favor as commander in chief, Mr. Vilsack said U.S. forces should redeploy from Baghdad and the more contentious southern regions of the country to the northern region, which has experienced less violence.

“We’ve given them this opportunity,” he said, citing the ouster of Saddam Hussein. “It’s a little bit of tough love.”

In response to concerns that a redeployment would embolden insurgent and terrorist forces, Mr. Vilsack said, “If there’s a bloodbath, how much different is that from the situation today?”

Later, he bristled when asked if, in hindsight, he still would have supported removing Saddam from power. “Tell me why this is important?” he asked. “I was reading three newspapers and watching [local TV] news. I don’t know that I had sufficient information and knowledge to make that decision.”

Mr. Vilsack estimates he will need to raise between $20 million and $40 million in order to compete with Mrs. Clinton and other Democrats in the primaries. He also rejected suggestions that a primary victory in his home state would have less than its usual significance.

“Whoever wins Iowa wins Iowa,” he said. “I expect to win Iowa.”

Mr. Vilsack also said that he would run on a record of success and competence he thinks will be important to voters. “We’ve turned a red state blue,” he said of his eight years in office.

Mr. Vilsack described his tenure as that of a centrist executive with a record that included tax cuts and improved employment numbers. He said that record, along with his connections to rural America, make him an appealing candidate for western and “small town” voters.

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