Oct. 16, 2008 -- Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Bruce Braley

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, left, and U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, both Democrats from Iowa. (Kevin E. Schmidt)

Kevin E. Schmidt

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley is wasting no time jumping into what will undoubtedly be a long and expensive race for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2014.

The four-term congressman’s announcement Thursday that “he’s ready to go” comes just 12 days after Sen. Tom Harkin said he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Advisers say the four-term Waterloo Democrat will begin a series of conversations across the state and via social media, with a formal announcement to come later.

Just as importantly, he’ll begin raising money right away. According to some estimates, the major party candidates will have to raise $10 million apiece for the race.

“We’re going to be in the best position when the filing hits,” pledged Jeff Link, a senior adviser to Braley.

That kind of aggressiveness could head off any primary challenge, which Braley said in an interview with Radio Iowa on Thursday that he would like to avoid. So far, he’s the only prominent Democrat to clearly express an interest in the race.

There is more than a year to go until the primary filing deadline. But in a race whose entry fee is so high, there isn’t that much time to waste. Even the man who is stepping aside, Harkin, said as much Thursday. He already has said Democrats will likely gravitate toward a single person by this summer.

“I just think that someone who’s sort of out there — the firstest with the mostest, as they say, people will tend to gravitate toward that person,” Harkin said on a conference call. He said he’s not endorsing anyone in a primary.

U.S. Reps. Tom Latham and Steve King are the most prominent Republicans considering bids.

King drew considerable media attention with a fundraising email he sent to supporters Thursday saying he was being targeted by Republican heavyweight Karl Rove.

The New York Times reported last Sunday that Rove was leading an effort to head off what he considers unelectable Republicans. In some states, so-called tea party candidates have knocked off more established Republicans in primaries. The eventual nominees have had mixed general election records, but some Senate seats Republicans figured they had a lock on slipped away.

The New York Times article singled out King, of Kiron, who is popular with the GOP base but has some party establishment figures worried about his electability in a statewide race.

“Nobody can bully me out of running for the U.S. Senate, not even Karl Rove and his hefty war chest,” King said in the email.

Meanwhile, a Latham spokesman said the congressman still is considering the matter and that a decision would likely be made by the spring.

Whoever moves first could have the advantage in lining up activists and the finite universe of donors, said Steve Grubbs, a Davenport-based Republican strategist.

“I would bet most activists in Iowa could either go with Latham or King, but that first mover advantage is very important,” he said.

In his announcement Thursday, Braley said he was filing papers creating a campaign committee. He also said he would begin talking with voters, beginning with a Facebook chat about his candidacy in the next few weeks.

In the radio interview, Braley praised Harkin and said, “I want to make sure that when he walks out of the Senate chamber for the last time, there’s someone like him, a progressive, populist Democrat who cares about the middle class and will fight for the people of Iowa.”

First elected to office in 2006, Braley came off a competitive primary that year — which he won by a little more than 500 votes — and then went on to win a highly targeted House race. The former trial lawyer proved himself to be an able fundraiser, and since his 2006 victory, he’s won convincingly.

The only exception was in 2010, when he nearly lost his House seat to Republican newcomer Ben Lange. Then, Braley was targeted by a Des Moines-based advocacy group, and it’s likely the 2014 Senate race also could draw significant spending outside the candidates and their parties. The Associated Press reported Thursday the total cost of the race could top $40 million.


Ed Tibbetts at 9:30 a.m.

Proclaiming he’s “ready to go,” U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, is telling supporters today that he’s forming a campaign committee to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated in 2014 by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.

Braley is sending the news in an email today, saying it’s a “big responsibility” to try to fill Harkin’s shoes.

“But if you are willing to help me, I’m ready to go,” he said in the email, which was obtained by the Quad-City Times.

The announcement comes about two weeks after Harkin shocked Iowans by announcing he wouldn’t run for re-election in 2014. Since then, Braley, who has long been rumored to be interested in the Senate, has been exploring a potential bid.

Jeff Link, a senior adviser, said today Braley will begin raising money immediately and he will be reaching out to Iowans to talk about veterans and small business issues and middle-class tax cuts. A more formal announcement will come “down the road,” Link said.

In the email, Braley said he would kick off a series of conversations with a Facebook chat in the next few weeks. Link said the conversations would extend for several months.

While Braley is considered by many to be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, it’s possible others could run in a primary. If that happens, Link made it clear Braley will be ready for any challenge.

“We’re going to be in the best position when the filing deadline hits,” he said.

Braley has been a proficient fundraiser since kicking off his first bid for the 1st Congressional District seat in 2005. He’s won four races in eastern Iowa since then, with only one, in 2010, a close call.

Now, he faces the challenge of introducing himself to other parts of the state, including a heavily Republican western Iowa.

Link said Braley has been encouraged in particular by two events in the days since Harkin made his announcement: His meeting with Statehouse Democrats in Des Moines and a big labor union event over the weekend in Dubuque, where he appeared with Harkin.

Harkin did not endorse Braley — and he has said that he wouldn’t get involved in a primary — but he generously praised the Waterloo Democrat.

Braley also has met with the political arm of the Senate Democrats.

On the Republican side, Reps. Tom Latham and Steve King have both sent signals they could run.

Latham, who has said he is considering a bid, changed the name of his campaign committee this week from Latham for Congress to Iowans for Latham. And while the congressman said not to read too much into the name change, some are taking it as a signal that he could run.