In news that was only surprising because of its timing, former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack has dropped out of the 2008 Democratic presidential race. “It is money and only money that is the reason we are leaving today,” Vilsack told reporters at a Friday news conference, later adding, “We have a debt we’re going to have to work our way through.” Vilsack left office in early January of this year and traveled to the early voting states, but he couldn’t attract the attention or campaign funds of his more well known rivals Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.

Vilsack had been able to raise $1.1 million through the last weeks of 2006, but currently had only $396,000 in the bank. Some election experts estimate that I candidate will need to have $20 million in the bank by June of this year to remain viable. “I came up against something for the first time in my life that hard work and effort couldn’t overcome,” he said. “I just couldn’t work any harder, couldn’t give it enough.” While governor of Iowa, Vilsack was a centrist Democrat who balanced the state budget without raising taxes. He also increased spending in areas like education and health care.

Vilsack’s departure means that there are now eight Democrats running for their party’s nomination in 2008. Of those eight, only Obama, Edwards, and Clinton should be considered serious contenders. 2008 is looking like a bad year for centrist underdog presidential candidates in both parties. It looks like the next presidential election will be dominated well known, well funded, Washington insiders. Money and grassroots organization are everything primary politics, and candidates like Vilsack, don’t have enough of either to compete in a field loaded with political heavyweights.

It is a shame that democracy has taken a back seat to fund raising in our modern politics. So many excellent candidates from both parties never get the chance to serve because they can’t raise the millions of dollars needed to get elected to higher office. American democracy is only open to those who will bow down to the monied special interests, and implicitly promise to put the needs of those interests ahead of the American people. It will be too late for the Tom Vilsack’s of politics, but maybe someday our democracy will be returned to us, we the people.

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