Thursday afternoon, Vilsack dined on beef, potatoes and salad at an off-the-record luncheon hosted by developer Phil Tagami inside the Rotunda Building in downtown Oakland.
With most polls showing just 1 percent would vote for him so far, Vilsack faces a long and winding road to the White House, perhaps explaining his appearance in, of all places, Oakland. Attended by about two dozen prominent Oaklanders, in-cluding several city and port officials, Vilsack was quizzed on a wide range of topics, including same-sex marriage, taxes, the war in Iraq and the need for increased diplomacy in the Middle East.
Tagami, who has given generously to Democratic politicians in recent years, called the timing of the lunch fortuitous. Vilsack, 55, is the first Democrat to officially launch a presidential campaign.
However, Vilsack declined to take questions from a reporter, saying the timing isn't right. He was in California to raise money, officials said.
One attendee said Vilsack, the head of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, came off as knowledgeable, well spoken and thoughtful and eager to create a positive buzz in Bay Area Democratic circles.
Although Vilsack established the campaign committee Thursday, he plans to formally announce his campaign with a multistate tour beginning Nov. 30 in his hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
Although not as well known as other Democratic politicians expected to run for president, Vilsack's Iowa roots will give him a leg up in the state's first-in-the-nation caucus.
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