Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA)
Presidential Announcement Speech
Iowa Wesleyan College
Mount Pleasant, Iowa
November 30, 2006

Christie Vilsack:  ...Thanks to the college for letting us meet here today.  Thirty-six years ago I introduced Tom Vilsack to my family and my community.  On his first visit in that first week I took him to a potluck supper, a Democratic central committee meeting, and he did a little work for my dad at the law office.  He made himself at home.  Five years later my dad wrote us a letter inviting us back to Iowa, explaining to us the benefits of working in a small town law office, teaching at a small school, being close to family, and a chance to be leaders in a small community.  We accepted his invitation and made Mount Pleasant home.  I was hesitant at first; I was afraid that Tom would always be known as Christie Bell's husband.  [laughter].  Now you know him as your mayor, as a state senator, and as your governor for the last eight years.  But you also know him as a lawyer who helped save your family farm, who helped adopt a child, your Little League coach, your Sunday school teacher and Jess and Doug's dad and a friend.  When you put it all together, his work as a lawyer, a parent and community member or in his role as an elected official for Iowa, Tom has always believed in the power of change and the power of any community's ability to create change that they can imagine.  He embraced change when he came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to our small town.  As a newcomer, he defied the naysayers, mobilized high school students, and challenged us to raise the money and build the Maple Leaf athletic facility.  That was just the beginning of his vision.  He brought us together to change the landscape of Mount Pleasant and then as a state senator and as a governor he literally changed the landscape of Iowa.  And he changed the vision we have of our state and our place in a competitive world economy.  Even though he believes in the power of change, you can count on Tom to maintain the values he believes in: hard work, determination and decisiveness.  It's my pleasure to introduce the next president of the United States, my husband, the love of my life, Tom Vilsack.  [cheers, applause].

Tom Vilsack:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Christie, thank you so much.  It feels so good to be home again.  And I want to thank Christie and Jess and Doug for their love, their support, and their inspiration.  Without it I would not be here today.  As a family we're committed to this campaign and to this effort – you can count on that.  And I want to thank all of you for being here today and I want to thank you for all of the support that you've given us over the many years.  My life changed certainly for the better when this community welcomed me over 30 years ago and I will always be grateful for that.  [applause].

Three weeks ago, Americans courageously, courageously voted to create change.  We sent a clear message that we wanted our nation led in a new, better and different direction.  [cheers, applause].  But our job is not done.  In fact our work is just beginning.

For today we have in the White House a president whose first impulse is to divide and to conquer…who preys on our insecurities and fears for partisan gain…who has robbed us of the assets that have made this country great:  Our collective sense of community, optimism and the can-do spirit that has built tomorrow's hopes and dreams.  [cheers, applause].

In the last election, we were not fooled by political tricks or gimmicks. We said in one voice, from all regions of this great country, that for us and for our children and grandchildren tomorrow really does matter.  [cheers, applause].

And that is why I am here today -- to challenge all of you and all of us to bring even bolder change and greater innovation to the nation we love so much.

But first we must face facts.

We live in a dangerous world.  A world with real threats and real problems.  Every day our way of life is threatened by terrorism from around the world.  American families today struggle every single day with the rising costs of healthcare and college expense.  For too many home ownership remains a fading dream and for others, retirement security an unfulfilled promise.  In many of our cities and neighborhoods, crime represents a daily threat and danger.

We also need to speak the truth about our country.

Our way of life, our quality of life, our national security has been compromised and put at risk by a national government that's been fiscally irresponsibile and by a country that has grown far too dependent on oil, foreign oil from foreign countries, some of which despise us, harbor terrorists but gladly take our money.

By any measure or standard we are less safe today as a nation than we were six years ago.  Our country needs bold leadership guided by the right values and the right experience to change America.  [cheers, applause].

That is why I am here today on this college campus.

For those of you who may be meeting me for the first time, let me just take a few minutes to introduce myself to you.

You know I've always been an underdog and a long shot.  I've always been inspired by the stories of ordinary citizens who worked hard, overcame adversity and succeeded.

I began life in an orphanage in the hands of a stranger.  I was adopted into a loving but troubled home.  In my early years, my mom battled with alcohol and prescription drug addiction.  My parents separated.  I watched as my father struggled as a single parent trying to keep his business alive. We grew accustomed to a declining standard of living.  I know what it's like...I knew then and I know today what it's like to be alone and to feel as if you don't belong.

You know the deepest hole anyone can dig is the hole of dependency and addiction.  But my mom dug herself out of that hole.  She relied on her faith, and her family and her friends, and in doing so she taught me a very valuable lesson – and that is that the courage to create change can overcome the largest of obstacles, and that community can give you the confidence and the support to try and to succeed.  [cheers, applause].

I was fortunate; my parents got back together.  And they taught me another valuable lesson--that you never give up on people, on family on things that matter.  These are values that I will always have and these are lessons I will never forget.

I've served as a mayor, a state senator and a two-term governor.  And during that period of time I've worked hard to bring us together to create change.

In the past eight years, I've helped lead our state, Iowa, to successfully changing, by making our farm fields into energy fields.  We challenged the traditional idea of agriculture; we became the renewable fuel leader and producer in the country.   It helped us to become more economically, environmentally and energy secure.  If you drive around Iowa today, you'll see that changing landscape.  You'll see ethanol production facilities, you'll see bio-fuel production facilities, you'll see wind farms.  You'll also be in a state that has the number one air quality in the nation.  [cheers, applause].

But we didn't stop there.  We also had the courage to change public education.   Early childhood initiatives, class size reduction, raising teacher pay, allowed us to improve our test scores, enabled us to retain our leadership as a leader in SAT and ACT scores and to be the state that had the lowest dropout rate in the entire nation.  [cheers, applause].

But we didn't stop there.  We had the courage to change government itself by reducing the size of government and also expanding access to health care to children, to seniors, to veterans.  It allowed us to be one of only two states last year that reduced the number of uninsured and we now rank second in the nation in insurance coverage.  That is a record I am proud of.  [cheers, applause].

And that is why I am here today – to help bring the same change to America.   It will take leadership to create this change.  But it also will take an active sense of community.

Now you know you don't have to live behind a white picket fence to understand the power and the force of community.  Some of America's strongest communities don't even have white picket fences; they don't even have yards.

In these communities, there have been countless numbers of Americans who have succeeded and have made America a success story.  People from all over the world have traveled to our country to begin farming our land, to build our factories, to pursue the American Dream.  America must always be that destination for those who pursue that dream, for those who want to work hard and take care of their families and provide a better life for their families and for those who want to live in freedom.

And that is why I'm here today because our country needs a president who builds and creates.  Our country needs a president...[cheers, applause].  Our country needs a president who wants to make us more secure by confronting our problems.  Our country today needs a president who will lead bold change and has the courage of his convictions and I intend to be that president.  [cheers, applause].

So today, in front of the family and friends that I love so much, in a community that I'm so proud to call home, I announce my candidacy to be the next President of the United States.  [cheers, applause...chants "Go, Tom, Go"].

I'm going; you can depend on that.  [cheers continue].

Let us have the courage, let us have the courage to create the bold change this country needs.   Let us stop the endless and partisan debates; let us stop the empty talk.  Let's have a campaign of serious thought about serious problems that our nation faces.  [cheers, applause].

Together, with the courage to create change, let us develop a healthcare system in our country that prevents illness with wellness, that cures diseases that some think are incurable, that allows us to live long, happy and productive lives without the necessity of spending every single penny that we earn during a lifetime of savings and hard work.

Together, let us with courage create the change, to build and fight for a public education system that moves beyond just standardized test taking and creates the opportunity for every youngster to be as innovative and as creative as God intended them to be.  [cheers, applause].

We must remain competitive; we must remain innovative.  And so together, let us have the courage to create the change, that builds a 21st century American economy, an economy that focuses on cutting-edge companies and technologies that lead us to energy security.  Energy security will revitalize rural America.  Energy security will allow us to reclaim moral leadership in the discussion of global climate change.  And energy security will allow us once and for all to remove and reduce our dependency on foreign oil from foreign countries that do not like us.  [cheers, applause].

And together, with the courage to create change, let us embrace a new foreign policy, one that allows us to renew our friendships, strengthen our alliances and isolates our enemies.  [cheers, applause].

And specifically in Iraq, we must act and we must act now.  We must take our troops out of harm's way and say to the Iraqis it is your responsibility to protect your families and your communities.  [cheers, applause].

I am running for President because I believe every America has the right to pursue the American Dream.

I am running for President because I believe every American community should be part of our success.

And I'm running for President because I have met people like Olivia Smith.  Olivia Smith is the widow of Bruce Smith.  Bruce served in our National Guard for over 20 years.  He was the grandfather of our National Guard, the fellow that 19- and 20-year old troops looked up to.  He was called by his country to service in Iraq.  He left his family, his wife and two children.  He went to Baghdad.  His job was to fly helicopters.  He did it bravely.  On one fateful day his helicopter was hit with a missile.  As it was told to me he had a split second decision to make, whether to maneuver the chopper to the extent that he had any maneuverability left in a way that might help save his life and that of his co-pilot but could potentially put those on board at risk or to try to save those on board but perhaps put his own life at risk.  Bruce did the thing he was trained to do; he did the thing that you would expect him to do.  He put his own life at risk, and that of his co-pilot.  He and his co-pilot died that day, but 18 people lived.  And I called his wife.

What do you say to someone whose life has been turned upsidedown; who now finds themselves with the responsibility of raising two children by herself?  I looked for the words.  I talked about duty and honor and country and faith and prayers but it just didn't seem right.  This wonderful woman, oh this wonderful woman.  She interrupted me in the middle of the conversation and she said, "Governor, I have this figured out."  And I thought to myself, how noble.  Just two days after you've learned of your husband's death you have it figured out.  She said, "Yes, I have it figured out.  The way I have it figured those 18 men needed Bruce more in that split second than I will need him the rest of my life."  She understood something about this great country.  She understood that we are a special place with a special mission.  She understood that some are often asked to sacrifice for it.

And I'm running for President because I want to make sure that people like Mrs. Smith know there is always a president in the office working every day to make sure that she and her children can reach their God-given potential.  [cheers, applause].

I'm running for President today to replace the anxiety that we feel today, and replace it with the hope of tomorrow so that we can guarantee every single American their birthright:  The right of great opportunity.  [cheers, applause].

It will take great courage to accept that change.  It will not be easy.  There will be challenges.  We will be asked to do our part.  I'm going to travel all over this great country of ours, to all four corners and I'm going to ask you to help join me in creating that change, because I believe Americans are eager to be asked, I believe Americans are ready to sacrifice and work to ensure that our country becomes the strongest and greatest nation now and forever.  [cheers, applause].

And so today I begin this quest.  I ask for your support and your vote.  I ask you to join me.  Let us have the courage to create change in America so that today and tomorrow and always, tomorrow will matter in our America.

God Bless our work and God Bless the United States.  [cheers, applause, music (The Four Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There")].

Length of speech: about 18 1/2 minutes.

Observations:  Vilsack used the word "change" or a variation (changed) 20 times and the word "courage" or a variation (courageously) 14 times during the speech.  He stayed fairly close to his prepared remarks, adding in some specific accomplishments from his record as governor ("number one air quality in the nation" and "lowest dropout rate in the entire nation" and "rank second in the nation in insurance coverage") and adding his much (too much?) recounted story of Olivia Smith. (1, 2)  In fact Olivia and Bruce Smith were the only names Vilsack specifically mentioned other than the members of his family.

At one point Vilsack said, "Let's have a campaign of serious thought about serious problems that our nation faces," but he really did not present or develop many or any specific proposals.  He was perhaps most detailed on the subject of energy security.  An announcement speech may not be the appropriate place to lay out an entire platform, but Vilsack could have taken the opportunity to identify a few specific goals or objectives.  Instead he focused more on introducing himself and developing his theme of community.  With more than a year of campaigning to go, Vilsack will have time to present his ideas on how to address those serious problems but he might have done a bit more of that from the outset.

prepared remarks