Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Say What? Tom Vilsack

[Say What? is a new semi-regular feature on RothenbergPoliticalReport.com]

By Stuart Rothenberg

From a January 29, 2007 Tom Vilsack for President press release, reporting that the Democratic Presidential hopeful raised "more than $1.1 million in last 7 weeks of 2006."

"Tom Vilsack proved…that he'll have the money to campaign across America in 2007 and win the Democratic nomination in 2008," said Vilsack spokesman Josh Earnest. "Vilsack's strong performance is a powerful indication that his outsider status, successful record as governor and his plan to end the war and make America energy secure is resonating with voters."

And later, Earnest concluded:

"Vilsack's early fund raising success ensures that our campaign will be able to win Iowa and then the Democratic nomination based on his message of having the courage to create change in America."

My reaction? Oh, Brother. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Anytime a press release talks about "a powerful indication" and spends more time on message than on reporting the news contained in the press release, you know you are getting mostly hype. Vilsack's fundraising doesn't "ensure" anything. Six weeks worth of fund raising certainly doesn't guarantee that the campaign "will be able to win Iowa."

The Vilsack release also compares his fundraising to Howard Dean's and John Kerry's in 2004. That is smart, but misleading.

Kerry ended 2002 with over $3 million in the bank, and his personal financial resources and early favorite status virtually guaranteed that he would be able to raise enough money to run a credible Presidential race. Vilsack doesn't begin anywhere near where Kerry was at this point in the 2004 Democratic contest, and, frankly, it's laughable for the former Iowa governor to make the comparison.

Dean ended the 2002 with just over $150,000 in his campaign account, so Vilsack can accurately portray himself as better funded at this point in the campaign than Dean was four years ago. But Dean became a credible contender for the Democratic nomination because his candidacy became a phenomenon. That's what enabled him to raise big money later on. There is no guarantee that Vilsack's campaign will take off, or that he will eventually raise the tens of millions of dollars that both Dean and Kerry raised.

Moreover the comment that his fundraising "is a powerful indication that his outsider status, successful record as governor and his plan to end the war and make America energy secure is resonating with voters" is ridiculous.

Most voters don't know who he is or about his record as governor. About half of his money was raised in-state, from Iowans who know him, like him and almost certainly see him as a favorite son.

With top tier Democrats likely passing on federal funds and raising many millions more than in the past, Vilsack has an uphill battle. And there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe he'll catch fire. Maybe Democratic caucus attendees in his home state will stick with him. Maybe a year from now he'll be the frontrunner for the nomination.

Maybe, Maybe. Maybe.

But the idea that Vilsack's fundraising in the last quarter of 2006 "guarantees" anything is absurd, and someone should say so.

I just did.