Vilsack: Iowa Not Impossible for Christie or Clinton

The agriculture secretary suggests Christie following Obama's lead.

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Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks to reporters before a House Democratic caucus meeting on Jan.19, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack suggested Chris Christie could follow Barack Obama's model for Iowa's presidential caucuses in 2016.

Iowa native and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (reluctantly) gave his assessment of how Republican Chris Christie and Democrat Hillary Clinton might fare in the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.

The state is home to the first contest during a presidential election year. Iowa voters generally favor the most conservative Republican candidate and, as interviewer Ruth Marcus pointed out, Vilsack's home state has never been "Clinton Country."

[READ: Christie Cruises to Re-election, Prompting Presidential Speculation]

"Look, I'm probably the last person in the world that should be opining about the Republican process because I'm not a Republican," Vilsack said, speaking at the Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum. "I would say that the party appears – the Republican Party in terms of caucus-goers – appears to be more conservative today than it was four years ago, eight years ago, 12 years ago."

But that doesn't necessarily spell doom for Christie, who's gotten flack from the right-wing of the Republican Party for partnering with President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy and giving up on a lawsuit that would challenge the legality of gay marriage in the Garden State.

It's the Obama model that Christie should follow, Vilsack suggested.

"I think he could learn and may learn a lesson from President Obama and his efforts in 2008 in Iowa, which is, that you don't deal with the caucus as it is, you create the caucus as you would like it to be," Vilsack explained. "Which means that you go out and you recruit folks who have never been involved in a caucus before and I think Gov. Christie could potentially profit from that."

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President Obama's team famously recruited high school seniors of voting age and college students to drum up the margins, enabling the now-president to win the caucuses by nearly 8 percent. (John Edwards and Hillary Clinton basically tied, but Clinton technically came in third.)

As for Clinton, Vilsack didn't suggest a strategy, but noted how competitive the caucuses were back in 2008.

"And I would anticipate and expect that there would be an awful lot of Iowans who would be excited and anxious to be supportive of her and I think she would do well in Iowa," he said.

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