Dismissing polls that show former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani ahead nationally, former Gov. Tom Vilsack said Thursday he expects dark horses to emerge from the GOP presidential field.
"With due respect to the mayor, when people get to know his record as mayor of New York, I don't know that they're necessarily going to gravitate to him," Vilsack, a Democrat, said during the taping of a show on Iowa Public Television.
In the past, Giuliani has supported abortion rights, gay rights and gun control, stands that would conflict with many Iowa Republicans. Early polls of Republican voters have shown Giuliani leading nationally and sharing the top rankings in Iowa with Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Vilsack predicted that two conservatives, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, would gain ground with Republicans who vote in Iowa's precinct caucuses.
"When conservative Republicans fully appreciate and understand all that there is to know about Rudy Giuliani and then compare him to a Sam Brownback and a Mike Huckabee, who have been very consistent in their personal and political life, I don't know what conservatives will do," he said.
Vilsack, speaking extensively for the first time since abandoning his presidential bid Feb. 23, restated his belief that he would have won the Iowa caucuses had he continued.
"We would have won," he said.
He also said he expects to endorse a fellow Democrat before the Iowa caucuses but would take his time.
"At this point I'm not thinking about future steps in terms of other campaigns. I'm trying to make sure my campaign is ended properly," he said. "But ... I think the chances are good that I'll do that."
In recent days, aides said Vilsack has fielded calls from most of the Democrats running for president, including Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He's also heard from former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Vilsack again said money was the root cause of his premature exit from the presidential race. He spoke forebodingly about the possibility of larger states moving up in the nominating process.
"There's a real risk, not from the crowds or the candidates, but from what's happening to the calendar," he said. "The reality is that if large states like California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan consider moving up their primary to February 5, you could have a 20 day primary season and it's over."
As governor of Iowa, Vilsack said, he supported moving up Nevada and South Carolina because they offered new diversity to the nominating process while still emphasizing the importance of person-to-person campaigning.