With Hillary Clinton expected to announce her vice-presidential running mate pick as early as Friday, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack seemed to appear out of nowhere to take a place on Clinton’s “short list” of potential selections — after media speculation had focused for weeks on Virginia Senator Tim Kaine or progressive firebrand Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts — according to Politico and numerous other media outlets.
But who is Tom Vilsack and why is he suddenly considered among the frontrunners to grab the VP slot on the Hillary Clinton-led Democratic ticket?
I don’t really understand the argument for Kaine > Vilsack. V is better speaker, IA > VA, knows H better, etc. https://t.co/BM5UdOwBDT
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) July 16, 2016
At age 65, just three years younger than Clinton, Vilsack was the governor of Iowa — a state where Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump are currently running neck and neck in poll numbers — from 1998 to 2007, and since 2009 he has served as United States Secretary of Agriculture in the cabinet of President Barack Obama.
Vilsack briefly ran for president in 2008, and was considered as a potential running mate by 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry.
But Vilsack has a compelling life story, abandoned as a baby and raised in an orphanage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a working class city in a region where Clinton will battle Trump for votes as each struggles to win the crucial swing state and its 20 electoral votes.
Vilsack maintains strong ties to Pittsburgh, according to fellow native and veteran political reporter Howard Fineman, and remains an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL football team. The Clinton campaign reportedly has high hopes for Vilsack’s ability to connect with rural and working class voters, specifically white men in those categories, who do not view Hillary Clinton with much favor and would otherwise be inclined to cast their ballots for Trump.
“If Tom Vilsack were on the ticket, Iowa would be a slam dunk,” Former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin told NBC News. “Without a doubt, that would be a given.”
The following CNN video profile contains more details on the background of potential Hillary Clinton VP pick Tom Vilsack.
But perhaps the two most attractive qualities that Tom Vilsack reportedly holds for Hillary Clinton, according to a CNN profile, are familiarity and loyalty.
Vilsack met Clinton more than 40 years ago, when Clinton worked for the Senate Watergate Committee alongside Vilsack’s brother-in-law. Tom Vilsack and his wife Christie have remained friends and political allies with Hillary and Bill Clinton throughout the more than four decades since. Clinton and Vilsack were both members of Obama’s cabinet from 2009 through 2012.
In his role as secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack has been meticulous in supporting Obama, even as his name emerged in the Clinton “veepstakes.” When pressed, he has refused comment, sticking only to issues relevant to his position as Agriculture secretary.
Kinda hoping Tom Vilsack gets the VP spot so we can bring back pictures like this pic.twitter.com/V0cSVPaftj
— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) July 20, 2016
On issues, however, Vilsack has not been as consistently progressive as Clinton, as evidenced by his record. The site On The Issues, which has developed a points system for rating the ideologies of elected officials, places Vilsack to the left of the “moderate” spectrum, characterizing him as “centrist,” while Clinton herself is rated “hard-core liberal.”
On issues, Vilsack favors a woman’s right to reproductive choice; favors gun regulation, earning him an “F” grade from the National Rifle Association; and has no significant ties to Wall Street finance.
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As secretary of Agriculture, however, Vilsack favors the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, a deal which he believes is beneficial to American farmers, opening up export markets for domestic agricultural products. While Clinton initially supported TPP, she now opposes the deal, which would set her at odds with Tom Vilsack as a potential running mate.
However, Tim Kaine — often the reported most-likely choice as Clinton’s VP — also supports the trade deal that Clinton opposes.
Tom Vilsack would also bring his wife Christie Vilsack to the Hillary Clinton campaign, if he turned out to be her pick for VP. Christie Vilsack, a former teacher, is senior advisor for International Education at the United States Agency for International Development, and is a strong proponent of women’s rights.
[Photo By Drew Angerer/Getty Images]