JUST as one political campaign ends with sighs of grateful relief, so begins the 2008 presidential bid of (drum roll, please) Tom Vilsack.
Tom who? Oh, right, the governor of the great state of Iowa and the first Democrat to officially announce for his party's White House nomination.
We knew that, but there's a better than even chance that only a relative handful of Americans outside the Hawkeye State are well acquainted with him.
By way of introduction Mr. Vilsack, 55, has been governor of Iowa since 1999 but did not run for re-election on Nov. 7. Described by the Almanac of American Politics as "articulate and pleasant, a solid partisan Democrat with a nonpartisan air," he was closely considered as the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004 before losing out to John Edwards.
The chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, he is obviously attempting to capitalize on the renewed public appetite - as evidenced by the mid-term elections - for more middle-of-the-road political leaders.
Moreover, Iowa's leading newspaper, the Des Moines Register, is unusually ebullient in its praise for Mr. Vilsack, describing his track record as governor as impressive.
"During a downturn in the national economy, Vilsack helped this state weather the storm without raising taxes or shutting down state government," the Register declared in an editorial. "He has advanced economic development in promising industries such as biotechnology."
With an inspirational personal history arising from a troubled family during his childhood, the newspaper concluded, "Unlike other politicians from moneyed backgrounds, Vilsack is someone Americans will identify with. We think the more Americans get to know him, the better they'll like him."
Now all Mr. Vilsack has to do is make a national name for himself, not to mention elbow his way to the top of a forbidding list that includes such well-known Democratic possibilities as Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
In the universe of presidential contenders Mr. Vilsack is still a long shot, so he has no time to waste. After all, the election is - can it be possible? - less than 24 months away.