DES MOINES — The line for potential successors to Rep. Bruce Braley in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District is a long one for Democrats, shorter for the GOP.
Braley of Waterloo announced Thursday he would seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by fellow Democrat Tom Harkin in 2014. Within minutes, the political succession buzz echoed throughout the Statehouse halls in Des Moines.
Conventional wisdom is the seat is the Democrats’ to lose. Braley won by a larger percentage than any other Iowa congressman in 2012 and the 20-county district includes the traditionally Democratic strongholds of Linn and Black Hawk counties.
“Conventional wisdom is about right,” said Chris Larimer, a political science professor from the University of Northern Iowa. “Party registration leans Democrat over GOP by just over 5 percentage points, and the district became more
Democratic following the 2010 redistricting cycle.”
Former House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, said last week that he’d run if Braley decided to run for Harkin’s seat. That could set up a cross-town primary with Senate President Pam Jochum, also of Dubuque, who told Iowa Public Radio on Thursday that she’s interested in the seat and would make a decision this summer.
Another potential female candidate, state Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, said she’s getting encouragement from fellow Democrats to run.
“Yes, I have been approached to run for Congress in the 1st District. Fellow Democrats have urged me to consider it,” Mathis said in an email response to the Waterloo Courier. “But right now, I am concentrating on the state Senate and working hard for the people who live in District 34” in northern and western Linn County.
Cedar Rapids is also home to state Rep. Tyler Olson, who was recently elected state Democratic Party chairman.
“I’m considering the opportunity,” Olson said Thursday. “I think that’s a seat that the Democrats should be able to keep.”
The bench is not as deep on the GOP side.
Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha seemed to be an early favorite. He called the opening of the seat “an exciting opportunity” for Republicans. Asked if he had any plans for a run, Paulsen responded, “I’m focused on being speaker of the House right now.”
Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, said he has thought about what it would take to stage a run for the congressional seat and may make a run for it.
“It definitely leans Democratic, but we had Jim Nussle from that area, so it isn’t out of the question that a Republican could be there,” he said.
Larimer said the Republican who matters most for the Braley seat is one who, if he’s on the ballot, wouldn’t be running for it anyway.
“For the GOP, this race is part of larger dilemma about where to put your best candidate. And I think that question starts with Governor (Terry) Branstad. If Branstad runs again, that allows (Lt. Gov.) Kim Reynolds to consider challenging Braley for the Senate seat and perhaps relieves pressure on (U.S. Rep. Tom) Latham to run given that he matches up better against Braley than (U.S. Rep. Steve) King,” Larimer said. “This would then clear the way for a strong GOP candidate to run in the 1st District.”
(Pat Kinney of the Waterloo Courier contributed to this story.)