updated 1/12/2004 12:00:11 PM ET 2004-01-12T17:00:11

With her husband on the sidelines, Iowa’s first lady on Monday endorsed Sen. John Kerry for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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Christie Vilsack threw her support behind the Massachusetts senator during a rally with more than two dozen state lawmakers at the state Capitol. Her husband, Gov. Tom Vilsack, has said he will not endorse a candidate before Iowa’s kickoff caucuses Jan. 19.

Vilsack said she backed Kerry in part because she was impressed with his relationship with his daughter and wife, whom she called “a strong-willed woman.”

“Lots of times Iowans choose not just on policy but on intangibles,” she said. Still, Vilsack said she thought Kerry’s policies on education, health care and foreign policy were best in the field.

The first lady is a political activist in her own right who endorsed Vice President Al Gore over former Sen. Bill Bradley in the 2000 caucuses. Gore won that contest while the governor remain neutral.

Kerry’s campaign considered the first lady’s endorsement to be the next best thing to the governor’s blessing.

Recent polling shows former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri in a close race in the state, with Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina trailing. Last week, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin threw his coveted endorsement to Dean, who had already won the support of both Gore and Bradley.

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