Vilsack, in New Jersey, says Clinton is going strong

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack says it’s too early to count Hillary Clinton out of the presidential race.

Vilsack, a national co-chair of the Clinton campaign, was at the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack today to speak at a forum on civic engagement hosted by Bergen County Community College — the same spot where Hillary Clinton raised cash from the Bergen County Democratic Organization last month. In an interview before his presentation, Vilsack, who just yesterday campaigned for Clinton in Ohio, told that his candidate is not losing critical momentum as the Ohio and Texas primaries loom.

“I don’t think it’s accurate to suggest that there have been 11 primary losses in a row, because that suggests that there was a real effort to compete hard in all of those states, which is not the case,” he said. “I think the Clinton campaign has had a strategy on focusing on the states that are going to be important in November –in states that are large in population and in diversity of population. And that strategy has worked at this point.”

Vilsack pointed to Clinton’s primary victories in state like California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and Michigan as evidence (although she was the only Democratic candidate who campaigned in the latter two).

“She did very, very well in the states that really matter come November. I don’t think there’s an expectation that the Democratic candidate is going to carry Idaho,” he said.

Vilsack emphasized that Clinton trails Obama by only about 100 delegates (counting both pledged and superdelegates). If she can pull off victories in Texas and Ohio – even narrow ones – she’ll be well poised to go on to win Pennsylvania, he said.

“A win is a win. This notion that she has to win by a lot is ridiculous.”

Vilsack also pointed to a Pew Research survey released yesterday that showed some Democrats defecting to vote for John McCain if Obama is the nominee. The poll shows Obama leading Clinton by nine points nationwide, and leading McCain by seven points in a general election match up. But twice as many white Democrats would vote for McCain in a head-to-head match up with Obama than those who would vote Republican against Clinton. The poll also showed that older, less educated and lower-income voters were all more likely to vote for McCain if Obama is the nominee.

For a brief period, Vilsack himself was a presidential hopeful. In November, 2006, he became the second candidate to officially announce his candidacy. He pulled out four months later after having problems raising enough money to run a competitive campaign and endorsed Clinton, who in turn helped pay off $400,000 in campaign debt. His name has been floated as a potential pick for vice-president if Clinton wins the nomination.

Vilsack, who served two terms as governor, said he’s unable to offer any criticism of the way either the Obama or Clinton campaigns have been run, given his own unsuccessful attempt at the nomination. And don’t count on him trying again.

“I’m not a pizzazz kind of guy, I’m a grit kind of guy,” he said. “And I don’t know if there is a place for somebody like me at that level. So I think I’m going to be focusing on doing something else with my life.”

Vilsack, in New Jersey, says Clinton is going strong