DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Democrat Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor who built a centrist image, abandoned his bid for the presidency on Friday after struggling against better-known, better-financed rivals.
"It is money and only money that is the reason we are leaving today," Vilsack told reporters at a news conference, later adding, "We have a debt we're going to have to work our way through."
Vilsack, 56, left office in January and traveled to early voting states, but he attracted neither the attention nor the campaign cash of his top-tier rivals - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards. He even faced obstacles in his home state.
In the most recent financial documents, Vilsack reported raising more than $1.1 million in the last seven weeks of 2006 but only had around $396,000 in the bank. Some campaign finance experts contend candidates will need $20 million by June 2007 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, his wife, Christie, and two grown sons at his side. "I just couldn't work any harder, couldn't give it enough."
Vilsack's withdrawal still leaves a crowded field of eight Democrats. He will remain an important figure in the presidential race as former rivals undoubtedly will seek his endorsement and help to win Iowa.
Vilsack, who likely will be considered as a vice presidential nominee, repeatedly declined to endorse another candidate at his news conference.
Other campaigns immediately began to seek out Vilsack's well-respected staff, hoping to pick up talented political operatives with experience in the first nominating state, and his political backers.
Gary Hirshberg, CEO and founder of Stonyfield Farm yogurt, was one of Vilsack's earliest and most prominent New Hampshire supporters. He said two minutes after Vilsack's announcement, Obama called seeking his support. Hirshberg told Obama he wasn't ready to commit to another candidate yet.
"Although we're absolutely undecided, I was very impressed," Hirshberg said. "Though we can wring our hands now about the role of money in these campaigns, it's still really vindicating to me to see, particularly here in New Hampshire, that grass-roots, house-to-house, person-to-person politics is still the order of the day. I think Senator Obama just proved that."
Vilsack was the first Democrat to formally enter the 2008 race when he announced his candidacy in November. His February departure underscores the warp speed of the 2008 race. In previous presidential cycles, candidates didn't announce until the fall, just a few months before the first caucuses and primaries, not more than a year before.