Another candidate has decided to pull out of the battle to win the Democrats' nomination for the presidential election. Tom Vilsack is the third reasonably serious contender to withdraw, after Evan Bayh and the warmly-fancied Mark Warner threw in their respective towels last year. With three bigger names in Clinton, Obama and Edwards already sucking up all the attention and cash, Vilsack has realised he just doesn't have the money to make much of a fight of things.
Although running for office in America is a mind-bogglingly expensive business, it's traditionally been possible for a lesser-known but talented candidate to suddenly become a front-runner, providing they can scrape together enough money to stay in the race long enough for someone to notice them. It happened to Howard Dean last time - the money started to roll in AFTER he started to get attention for his anti-war speeches. But because of an important change in the way this election's going to work, it looks very unlikely a similar 'insurgent' campaign will break through again.
Each of the states picks their favourite candidate in a system known as primary elections. Iowa and New Hampshire always hold theirs first, meaning those are always the most important states for a candidate to focus on, and anyone doing badly there has to give up and go home early in the race. But now California's decided to move its huge primary from the summer to February, meaning it'll now directly follow those early votes. That now makes California just about the most important state in the primary elections, meaning all the candidates are going to have to spend lots of time there. And because of its size, it's going to take a monumental amount of money and fame to even be competitive there.
Clinton and Obama have been in Hollywood this week raising lots of the stuff, and Edwards' popularity among his fellow rich lawyers should mean he's got enough in the kitty to at least put in a decent showing. But the bottom line is that everyone else hoping to be the Democrats' pick may as well follow Vilsack and give up now. Like him, they're all relatively poor and hardly anyone's heard of them. None of them stand a chance.