- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

Tom Vilsack, the first Democrat to officially enter the 2008 presidential race, dropped his bid for the White House yesterday, saying he could not raise enough money to compete and underscoring the power of top-tier candidates Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to crowd out the rest of the field.

“We have everything to win the nomination and general election — everything except money,” he told supporters at his campaign headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, as he announced his decision.

He will be viewed as a casualty of the new campaign world, in which big states such as California, Florida and New Jersey are considering moving up their primaries and in which $100 million is considered the ante.

Even as a former governor of Iowa, who should have had an edge in that state’s early primary season caucuses, Mr. Vilsack had struggled to attract money and attention from Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

Mr. Vilsack, 56, said he had expected to win the Iowa caucus and finish near the top in the New Hampshire primary.

But he said that wouldn’t be enough to win the race and that mounting debt forced him to call it quits.

“At the end of the day, it is not about good ideas or hard work; it’s about money,” he said later in a conference call with reporters.

His exit leaves eight confirmed candidates in the Democratic contest, with Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama leading the pack, and Mr. Edwards performing well in Iowa polls.

Mrs. Clinton, 59, and Mr. Obama, 45, also likely lead in fundraising for what is shaping up to be the most expensive presidential campaign in history, possibly costing $1 billion.

The campaign ended for Mr. Vilsack a little more than three months after he declared his candidacy Nov. 8 — the day after midterm elections swept Democrats into control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for the first time in a dozen years.

Mr. Vilsack wasn’t the first to bow out, nor was his the shortest-lived run.

Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, threw in the towel in December less than two weeks after setting up his exploratory committee.

Mr. Vilsack, high on the list of vice presidential prospects in 2004, remains an attractive running mate in 2008. However, he said the No. 2 spot was “the furthest thing from my mind today.”

Mrs. Clinton said she had “deep admiration” for Mr. Vilsack and his wife, Christie. She said she looked forward to hearing more ideas from the former governor, who had made the Iraq war and energy policy the focus of his campaign.

“We share a passion for protecting America’s young people through expanded health care options, early childhood education initiatives and opening the doors to higher education to every American.”

Mr. Obama called him “an outstanding public servant” and said his education, health care and energy policies made Iowa a model state.

“More than that, Tom brings a badly needed sense of honor and decency to our politics,” said Mr. Obama, who has tried to stay above the political fray to distinguish himself from the perceived bare-knuckle campaigning by Mrs. Clinton.

Practically every poll shows Mrs. Clinton with a double-digit lead over Mr. Obama, who is double digits ahead of the next closest competitor.

Still, Mrs. Clinton is dogged by her 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq war and speculation on the left that she is unelectable.

Mr. Vilsack has always polled near the bottom, and several Democrats not in the race — former Vice President Al Gore and retired Gen. Wesley Clark — have closely trailed Mr. Obama.

Among Democrats in the race, only Mr. Edwards consistently garners about 10 percent in polls.

A Quinnipiac University poll of Democratic voters last week showed Mrs. Clinton with 38 percent, Mr. Obama with 23 percent, Mr. Gore with 11 percent and Mr. Edwards with 6 percent.

The next closest candidates, Mr. Clark and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, each received 2 percent. Mr. Vilsack, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut each garnered 1 percent or less.

The remaining Democratic candidate, former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska, was not mentioned in the poll.

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