Big Ag commodity groups had mounted a backroom campaign against Vilsack's bid for USDA chief. Evidently, the former governor is more of a champion of conservation programs than they can tolerate.Though YMMV, as we say on the internets.
But as I observed back when Vilsack's name had first been floated (which was of course before we thought he had subsequently been passed over), this may all be about climate change (a subject which Vilsack is passionate about). From Hillary at State, through Richardson at Commerce, now Vilsack at Ag, and into the "Green Team" of Chu, Jackson, Salazar, Sutley and Browner, this is a group that has a singular passion about the subject. When the time comes for the agriculture sector to submit to limits on carbon emissions (and despite his ill-considered support for both flavors of ethanol), Tom Vilsack has the credibility and the commitment to deliver on them. Presumably, Obama thinks so, too.
[Updated 11:40am, Wednesday] Some folks have been trying to square the circle of Vilsack's denial last month to the Des Moines Register that he was under consideration for the post. I would merely speculate that he may have been truthful. There's the distinct possibility that Obama went back to Vilsack more recently based on dissatisfaction over his other choices and/or an inability to get the farm lobby to swallow more reformist picks. Given Obama's amazing needle-threading instincts with his Veterans Affairs pick Shinseki, along with Chu at DOE and Duncan for Education, it's hard to believe he would have abandoned them for Ag. I'm not suggesting that Vilsack is necessarily a closet reformer. I'm just saying the politics of the situation might have led Obama to him in a way that doesn't necessary indicate what Obama's policy priorities really are. I'm hoping we find out more at the press conference today.