DES MOINES — After deflecting questions about her plans for months, former state senator Swati Dandekar is taking the first steps toward running for an open U.S. House seat in northeast Iowa.

The Marion Democrat confirmed that supporters are forming an exploratory committee, and she will decide before fall whether she will run for the 1st District seat now held by Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who is from Waterloo.

“I know it is important to the people living in northeast Iowa to continue the strong representation established by Braley,” she said. “We must keep this seat in Democratic hands.”

Dandekar, 62, stepped away from elected office in 2011 after serving in the Iowa House from 2002-08 when she was elected to the Senate.

She said she recognizes the importance of agriculture, advanced manufacturing, technology and renewable energy to the district. Future opportunities will stem from expanding these sectors, she said.

“I am humbled by the number of people who have reached out to me, urging me to run and citing my ability to put good public policy before politics,” Dandekar said.

If she formally enters the race, Dandekar will face former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy of Dubuque. Murphy insists he’s not concerned with who else might run for the Democratic nomination.

Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, Iowa Democratic Party chairman and a potential candidate himself, expects at least three to four candidates in a June 2014 primary.

Dandekar may have some fence-mending to do with Democrats. Many were angry with her decision in 2011 to resign from her swing-district seat in Linn County to accept Gov. Terry Branstad’s nomination to the Iowa Utilities Board. Although Democrats retained the seat, ill will remains with her decision that many Democrats saw as jeopardizing the party’s 26-24 Senate majority.

So she will spend the next several weeks “talking to voters in the 1st District, my friends, and, of course, my family,” said Dandekar, a naturalized American born in India. She and her husband, Arvind, have lived in Iowa since 1973.

“Together we will make a careful and thorough assessment of the race,” she said. “I will make a final decision sometime this summer.”

The Republican field, so far, consists of businessmen Steve Rathje of Cedar Rapids and Rod Blum of Dubuque.

The 20-county district stretches from Marshalltown north to Minnesota and east to the Mississippi River, including Jackson County in the Quad-City area. It also includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Dubuque.