DES MOINES, Iowa - Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a major political coup, has captured the endorsement of former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who recently abandoned his own presidential bid, officials told The Associated Press on Friday.
Vilsack and his wife, Christie, planned to make the endorsement on Monday when the New York senator will be in the state, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the planned formal statement next week.
Clinton spokesman Mark Daley would not confirm Vilsack's endorsement, but did say the campaign had a major announcement planned for Monday in Des Moines.
Iowa is the first test in the presidential primary with caucuses on Jan. 14, 2008, and backing from both Vilsacks is certain to boost the Democratic front-runner. A win in Iowa provides critical momentum, especially with a spate of primaries and caucuses early in the nomination calendar.
In 2004, Christie Vilsack backed Democratic Sen. John Kerry, support that helped the eventual nominee win the Iowa caucuses.
Clinton rival Sen. Barack Obama, who lost out in securing the key endorsement, shrugged off the news in an interview with the AP. The Illinois senator said he spoke with Vilsack briefly after the governor bowed out of the race, but his campaign had not been focused on securing the backing.
"Obviously he's got credibility in Iowa and I think highly of him as a former governor. But my sense is this race will ultimately not be won, probably, on endorsements, but it will be more on who gives voice to the real hunger that the American people have for change right now," Obama said in a telephone interview.
"The Clintons have been on the national scene for a real long time," he said. "I think the surprise would be if they didn't garner a lot of endorsements from well-established political figures."
Vilsack, who served two terms as Iowa governor, launched his own bid for president in November, but dropped out of the race on Feb. 23. He said his campaign could not raise enough money to continue.
Vilsack had been courted by most of the major Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination and once he left the race, he became a likely prospect as a vice presidential running mate.
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 _ Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and John Edwards. He even faced obstacles in his home state.
Once he quit the race, Vilsack fielded calls from most of the Democrats running for president, including Clinton and Obama. He also heard from former President Clinton and former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, who is working for Clinton.
Former Vice President Al Gore also called Vilsack to offer comforting words about the end of a presidential bid. Although Gore has said he has no plans to run again, he has not completely ruled it out.
As Iowa governor, Vilsack had carved out a reputation as a centrist balancing his state's budget and refusing to raise taxes, while emphasizing increased spending on such priorities as education, health care and higher wages. Until recently he chaired the Democratic Leadership Council, the party's signature centrist group.
Vilsack initially made the focus of his long-shot campaign a plan to end U.S dependence on foreign oil by promoting alternative energy sources.
"Energy security will revitalize rural America, re-establish our moral leadership on global warming and climate security, and eliminate our addiction to foreign oil," Vilsack, a prominent proponent of ethanol, biodiesel and wind power, said at the time.
Later, Vilsack was among the more aggressive Democratic candidates in his call to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, calling for Congress to cut off funding.