DES MOINES, IA – Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack plans to publicly endorse Joe Biden for president at a rally on Saturday, two people close to Biden’s campaign told The Associated Press.
The former two-term governor, who served with Biden in the Obama administration as U.S. secretary of agriculture, and his wife, Christie Vilsack, plan to appear with Biden and his wife, Jill, at a morning rally in Des Moines.
The backing from Vilsack comes as Biden, once the early favorite in the state with the nation’s first presidential caucuses, has steadily slipped in Iowa, and he now trails South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in early polls.
The two people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the plans before the rally. Neither Vilsack nor the Biden campaign replied immediately to requests for comment Friday.
Although Vilsack has consulted many of the candidates running in the Feb. 3 caucuses, his endorsement follows increasingly favorable public comments he’s made about Biden, especially about Biden’s consistent advantage over Republican President Donald Trump in national head-to-head surveys.
“There’s nothing about him that scares people, which is why in these polls against Trump he’s doing as well or better than anyone else,” Vilsack said in a recent AP interview. “Joe’s taken a punch and he’s still standing. Maybe a little shaky, but he’s still standing.”
Vilsack also says Biden’s personal losses — his first wife and infant daughter died in a car accident in 1972, and his son Beau died of cancer in 2015 — could resonate with voters if he drew on it more as motivation to lead.
“That is the deepest pain you can suffer,” Vilsack said in the interview. “But the folks that survive it and get on the other side of it, there’s a feeling of compassion. There’s a feeling of connection with suffering.”
Vilsack is the only Democrat to be reelected Iowa governor in more than 50 years.
He was last elected in 2002, briefly sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and served as Obama’s agriculture secretary for all eight years of his administration.