Rep. Bruce Braley on Sunday publicly acknowledged his interest in running to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin in 2014.
"Over the past 24 hours, I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouragement and support from Iowans in every corner of the state urging me to consider a campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014," the Democrat said in a statement released by his office. "Iowans deserve a Senator who will continue Tom Harkin's legacy of strengthening the middle class and standing up for Iowans who don't have a voice. While Senator Harkin's shoes are impossible to fill, over the coming days my family and I will carefully weigh a possible candidacy for Senate."
Harkin announced his retirement Saturday morning, setting up the Hawkeye State's first open Senate seat race in several decades. The novelty, plus Iowa's competitive political composition, is expected to make this race one of the most targeted of 2014.
However, Harkin's departure comes as a disappointment, especially for Senate Democrats, who face a daunting map this cycle. They must defend 21 seats out of 35 races, including seven seats in states where the president lost last year. President Barack Obama won Iowa by more than 5 points.
In the hours after the Harkin news, some Democrats started to coalesce behind Braley. The four-term Democrat has long held statewide ambitions, although until recently he was eyeing a bid for governor instead.
Braley is not the only House member looking at the Senate seat. Republicans indicated Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham are looking at the Senate race — a situation that could set up a divisive primary between two colleagues.
"All doors [are] still open and being studied," said one knowledgeable Iowa Republican of Latham.
Latham would be in a unique position to run statewide. Throughout his 10 terms in Congress, he has represented 56 of Iowa's 99 counties — and he's only ever lost three of them. A top ally of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, Latham proved himself an excellent fundraiser last year when he defeated Democratic colleague Rep. Leonard Boswell in a competitive district.
King also survived a targeted race last cycle. He defeated former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack in a GOP-leaning district. A vocal conservative, King has indicated his statewide aspirations in media interviews before Harkin's announcement.
"Senator Harkin's retirement comes as a surprise," King said in a statement Saturday night. "I congratulate him on a long and successful career in Congress. Iowans now have a real opportunity to elect a true Constitutional conservative to help lead us out of our crisis of debt and deficit."
In addition to King and Latham, other possible GOP candidates include state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. The Des Moines Register reported state Sen. Brad Zaun is interested, as well as former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker.
Republicans also suggested former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn might run for the seat. Strawn did not return an email seeking comment.