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Christie Vilsack seeks rural voters in her convention speech

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Iowa's First Lady reached out to small town and rural voters as she spoke at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday night.

"My father, an Iowa farm boy and small-town lawyer, and my mother, a homemaker from Missouri, taught me the values that their parents taught them," Christie Vilsack said. "They were children of the Depression and survivors of a world war. They championed the underdog."

In her speech at Boston's FleetCenter, the wife of Gov. Tom Vilsack also became the first governor's spouse to deliver a prime-time convention address.

"Tom and I have kept our home on Main Street in small-town Iowa, where we raised our sons. Our friends and neighbors come from all walks of life," she said. "Yes, our small towns and rural communities have been hit hard these past four years."

Iowa, which has lost more than 28,000 manufacturing jobs since Bush took office, is hurting at home, Vilsack said.

"Some work long hours at local industries. Some work part-time with no insurance at discount stores," she said. "But we aren't buying the pessimism of those who say, 'This is as good as it gets.' We know we can do better," she said. "We embrace the hope and optimism of John Kerry and John Edwards, the conviction that we can build a stronger America."

Vilsack also was chosen to speak to the convention as the representative of a segment of heartland voters viewed by the Kerry and Bush campaigns as up for grabs in November.

Representing the importance of rural America to the election, Vilsack's speech was also symbolic of her importance to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's campaign for the nomination, which turned around in Iowa. Her endorsement of Kerry in January was seen as critical to the Massachusetts senator's come-from-behind victory in the caucuses, which launched his near-sweep of the nominating contests.

She flashed a smile and a quick wave at the 75-member Iowa delegation seated only 15 feet from the podium. The group, waving "We love Christie" signs, included Tom Vilsack and the couple's older son, Jess.

Vilsack characterized the Bush administration as champions of big business.

Kerry is someone who espouses many small-town Midwestern values, she said, "who will stand up to the Enrons and Halliburtons and say, 'Enough and no more,'" a line she repeated throughout her speech.

Vilsack told of meeting President Harry Truman as a child, and she showed off a pen that the president gave her as a "bribe" in exchange for a handshake, prompting cheers from the Missouri delegation.

Iowa and Missouri are among Midwestern states with large rural populations where Bush, a Republican seeking re-election, and Kerry are concentrating their campaign money and time.

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