"Americans sent a clear message on Tuesday. They want leaders who will take this country in a new direction," Vilsack said in a statement. "They want leaders who share their values, understand their needs, and respect their intelligence. That's what I've done as governor of Iowa, and that's what I intend to do as president."
Vilsack, Iowa's two-term governor, filed documents with the Federal Election Commission in Washington to create a presidential campaign committee. His campaign started operating, with an office open and letterhead printed. His campaign Web site www.tomvilsack08.com was online by early Thursday.
The governor is the first Democrat to file for the presidency although a number of better known candidates are presumed to be running.
Although the favorite son in the early voting state, Vilsack has trailed the other potential candidates in early polling, among them front-runner New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
Vilsack aides said the governor had made the decision to run, and saw no reason to wait to start campaigning.
He is among the lesser-known would-be Democratic candidate, and entering the race early could help him boost his name recognition and increase his ability to raise money. However, the announcement two days after the midterm elections could be overshadowed by the changing of the guard in Washington with Democrats seizing control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years.
Vilsack plans a multistate tour beginning Nov. 30 to formally announce his bid. The first stop will be his hometown of Mount Pleasant, where he served as mayor and which he represented in the Iowa Senate before being elected governor in 1998.
Vilsack said he will also announce his candidacy in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Nevada and South Carolina. Vilsack was born in Pittsburgh, and the other states are all early tests of strength in the nominating process.
"I couldn't be more honored that my wife, Christie, and our sons, Doug and Jess, are committed to joining my effort to offer the people of America and the Democratic Party my vision for the future of our country as a candidate for president," said Vilsack, a former head of the Democratic Governors Association. "Over the next several weeks, they and the rest of my campaign team will put together the building blocks needed to run a successful national presidential campaign."
Vilsack heads the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group that former President Clinton used to help launch his candidacy. He has also traveled the country campaigning for Democratic gubernatorial candidates while considering a presidential run.
Vilsack said in his statement that he plans a "Gala Celebration of American Community" on Dec. 2 in Des Moines as his initial fundraising event. His campaign headquarters are in Des Moines. Iowa's caucuses launch the nominating process in January 2008, and Vilsack's first test in his home state will be vital to his presidential hopes.
Vilsack became Iowa's first Democratic governor in 30 years when he won the election, pledging at the time to limit himself to two terms. He kept that promise, working to elect Democrat Chet Culver as his replacement.
On the Republican side, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California has announced the formation of an exploratory committee. About a dozen other candidates, including Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, are weighing bids.