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Democrat Vilsack drops White House bid

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - Democrat Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, dropped his longshot 2008 White House bid on Friday after he failed to keep pace with his big-name rivals in raising funds.

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack speaks at a Democratic Presidential Candidates Forum sponsored by AFSCME in Carson City, Nevada February 21, 2007. REUTERS/Kimberly White

“It’s really about money,” Vilsack said at his Des Moines headquarters as he shut down his 3-month-old campaign operation.

Vilsack faced an uphill struggle competing in the Democratic presidential race against a heavyweight field led by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the former first lady, and rising star Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

He battled low name recognition and typically registered in the low single digits in national polls, well behind the top tier of Clinton, Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

His early departure highlights the difficulties facing five other underdogs still battling the three big names for the Democratic nomination, as a compressed nominating calendar puts an emphasis on the ability to raise money rather than small-scale, grass roots campaigning.

Vilsack is the second declared Democratic candidate to drop out of the 2008 race, following Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh’s withdrawal in December just weeks after entering.

“I came up against something for the first time in my life where hard work and effort couldn’t overcome,” Vilsack said. “I just couldn’t work any harder, couldn’t give any greater effort and it just wasn’t enough.”

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While the top candidates are expected to raise as much as $100 million before the first nominating contest in Iowa in January 2007, Vilsack had set a more modest goal of raising about $20 million.

He said the possibility that big states like California and Florida could move their primaries to early February 2008 would make presidential politics even more expensive, and suggested it was time for a debate about public financing of campaigns so they can be more than “a money primary.”

“At the end of the day it’s not about hard work or effort or good ideas, it’s about money. It’s got to be more than that,” he told reporters in a conference call.

His Democratic rivals issued statements praising his candidacy and lamenting his decision. Vilsack said he pulled the plug now because his campaign was in debt and he wanted to give his staff a chance to sign on with other candidates.

He said he had not thought about whether he will endorse another contender.

Vilsack entered the 2008 race in November, the first Democrat to do so, and he kept a heavy schedule of campaign appearances around the country.

He strongly criticized President George W. Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, attacked Republican White House hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona for his support of the Iraq war and proposed a broad energy conservation plan.

Iowa kicks off the U.S. presidential campaign with its caucuses in January 2008 but Vilsack’s presence in the field had not stopped other Democrats from swarming there to campaign.

Even in his home state, polls showed Vilsack in fourth place behind Edwards, Obama and Clinton.