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Christie Vilsack announces candidacy in Iowa, running to replace Steve King

AMES — Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack, promising a church-potluck civility, announced her campaign this morning for Congress as a Democrat in the state’s new 4th District, a sweep of 39 counties in western and central Iowa.

Most of the counties are now represented by U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Kiron Republican with national starpower in conservative circles who has dominated lesser-known opponents in elections over the last decade.

“Iowans are sick of the partisanship and finger-pointing,” Vilsack said.

She added, “I don’t want to score points. I want to make progress.”

Christie Vilsack was joined by her husband, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and other family members at her announcement in Ames. The former Iowa governor had no speaking role, leaving the limelight to the state's former first lady. (Photo: Douglas Burns/The Iowa Independent)

In making her announcement in Ames, at Iowa State University’s Memorial Union, Vilsack, wife of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, made no references to either the Democratic Party or King.

A native of Mt. Pleasant in southeast Iowa, Vilsack, who has established residency in Ames, said she grew up in a home her parents bought with help from the G.I. Bill. She told a crowd of about 100 supporters in Ames that she believes in a “focused” and “sensible” role for government, one that protects Social Security and Medicare but addresses the deficit.

“It offends me when those hard-earned dollars are wasted,” she said.

But corporations and the wealthy should pay more taxes as part of a broader solution to Washington’s budget and services strategy, she said. Right now, Vilsack said, the wealthy corporate sector is not doing its fair share.

“That’s like showing up at a potluck without bringing a covered dish,” Vilsack said.

In her western and central Iowa “listening tours” of recent weeks Vilsack said she heard concerns from many residents about a U.S. House-passed Republican budget that would transition Medicare into a voucher system.

“I firmly believe we can save Medicare without turning it into a voucher program,” Vilsack said.

In her remarks Vilsack referenced Santa Maria Winery in Carroll as an example of the innovative endeavors she wants to champion as a federal legislator.

Specifically, she pledged support for completing the four-laning of U.S. Highway 20. Overall, she said government can assist with infrastructure, roads and the Internet — and otherwise get out of the way of private enterprise.

“In the Midwest we know that compromise isn’t a bad word,” Vilsack said.

Noting that the new 4th District has one of the nation’s highest concentrations of wind turbines, Vilsack said economic-development leaders and communities should work aggressively to recruit companies that make the turbine components, and repair them, to rural Iowa. Moreover, returning military men and women looking for work should be able to find it in the renewable energy sector in Iowa, she said.

“I’m running for Congress to help build those partnerships,” Vilsack said.

In an interview session with The Iowa Independent and other media following the announcement, Vilsack would not say whether President Obama would campaign for her in western Iowa.

“I wouldn’t have any idea right now,” she said. “I’m just trying to get my announcement taken care of.”

Vilsack declined to elaborate on her husband’s recent characterization of the race with King as a “holy war.”

“You’d have to ask him because he’s the one who said it, but for me, it’s going to be a competition, and that’s really important for people, to have a choice and to have a contrast, and I think that I’ll provide that contrast,” Christie Vilsack said. “As i said, I’m interested in problem solving, not partisan fighting.”

Tom Vilack joined his wife at the event along with other family but had no speaking role. He declined to answer questions from The Iowa Independent about his wife’s candidacy.

Iowa joins Mississippi as the only states with the distinction of having never elected a woman as governor or to the U.S. House or U.S. Senate.

“There’s nothing sexist about the electorate of Iowa and it will be exciting when we get a female candidate in Congress,” Vilsack said.

She added, “This for me is as much about being a small-town person as it is about being a woman.”

After being pressed to comment on King, and what she believes his inadequacies are as a legislator, Vilsack was asked if, as a female candidate, she risked appearing weak, not up to the challenge, by not taking the fight directly at King, or returning rhetorical fire against one of the more provocative and colorful congressmen in the nation.

“There are a lot of ways of being tough, and I think every woman in Iowa understands that,” Vilsack said.

One Vilsack supporter, Phyllis Peters, a Glidden native now living in Ames and active in Democratic politics, said the Democratic candidate struck the right tone.

“At this speech and another one she was all about what unifies us,” Peters said. “She did nothing about divisive rhetoric. She’s all about what makes our communities better. So I think it’s refreshing. It’s very different than what you’re hearing from others.”

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