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Former Iowa Gov. Vilsack sees Minnesota as critical if Obama wants to secure win

WILLMAR -- People in Minnesota and Iowa like to poke fun of one another, but the tone was serious if not somber when a former governor of Iowa came to Willmar to campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

"I don't believe Senator Obama can win this election without winning Minnesota,'' said Tom Vilsack, in emphasizing what was at stake for the De-mocratic Pa- rty. He spoke Saturday to 30 people at the Obama campaign headquarters.

Vilsack, 57, was elected as Iowa's first Democratic governor in 32 years in 1998. He served two terms as governor, entertained a presidential bid and helped lead Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign before taking to the road for Obama.

He said that Obama is the first presidential candidate to advance a "comprehensive rural agenda."

Obama would invest $150 billion over 10 years to develop renewable and alternative energy sources. He would wean us from foreign oil by using our own resources, including the use of our farm fields to produce energy, according to Vilsack.

The Democratic senator from Illinois is also committed to building up the Internet infrastructure so that rural areas can enjoy complete access, according to Vilsack.

He pointed out that Obama supports ethanol while stating that Republican presidential candidate John McCain has a 26-year record of opposition to it. McCain says he is opposed to subsidies for ethanol, said Vilsack, who then charged that McCain has supported $80 billion in tax breaks for oil companies.

He also contrasted the candidates on taxes and health care. Obama's proposals would result in tax reductions for 95 percent of families in the country, while McCain favors breaks for the wealthiest Americans, according to Vilsack.

The somber tone of the event came largely from the audience: They voiced concerns about health care costs, the country's financial crisis and debt, and the on-going war in Iraq.

"What we are living through is a real nightmare,'' said Jessica Rohloff, while speaking of the health care issues faced by many people.

Yet the event wasn't without some good-natured rivalry between the two states. Vilsack said he has a running bet with staff on which state will give Obama the greater victory margin. At stake is a meal of Minnesota walleye or Iowa pork.