Who wins from the painfully obvious decision by Tom Vilsack to get out of the race? Nationally, his support was negligible, which was why (along with a severe $$$ deficit) he had no hope beyond Iowa in this race. But his backing in Iowa (~15%) is quite valuable, especially the support he had among loyalist party leaders at the county level. Also, his staff will be in high demand from the other campaigns. So who is likely to come out ahead? Let’s take a look.

Hillary Clinton: Don’t be at all surprised to see Vilsack endorse fellow Democratic Leadership Council stalwart Clinton. He might not do so immediately, perhaps saying that he will give the matter some thought and make an announcement in a few weeks (all the better to build up the publicity, of course). I’ve thought for some time that Hillary was hoping Vilsack would take Iowa (a state where she’s not particularly strong) out of play. It’s become clear that this wasn’t going to happen, everyone’s going to have to compete in the Hawkeye state. Vilsack might have been aiming for the bottom of a Clinton ticket all along, but in any case, don’t be surprised to see his high command moving Hillary’s direction. That doesn’t necessarily mean his rank-and-file backers will be doing so, however, which leads us to…

Bill Richardson: Guess who’s the only governor left in the race? That’s right, Richardson could be in very good shape with Vilsack’s departure, as there are some voters who put a high priority on executive experience and are definitely looking for a governor (they do tend to fare better than senators, after all). If Richardson can show strength in Nevada, which as of now is scheduled to go second, and raise at least a respectable amount of money, he could win over some of Vilsack’s people. From now on, anytime there’s a reference to “the Governor” in the Democratic race, there’s no question who it is, and Richardson has shown that he knows how to play up the “I’ve actually done it” bona fides.

John Edwards: No doubt about it, Edwards has to win in Iowa (and he’s leading there in the latest poll). His position in the top tier with Clinton and Barack Obama is almost entirely thanks to his strength in the early states, Iowa in particular. Vilsack’s presence in the race was bound to soak up a significant amount of support and therefore prevent anyone else from scoring a really decisive victory. With Vilsack out, that support is up for grabs, and Edwards has shown he has appeal for Iowans. With more of them now in play, expect to see Edwards spending even more time (believe it or not) in the Hawkeye state.

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