Tom Vilsack declines Iowa campaign for U.S. Senate

Rachel Rose Hartman

Iowa Democrats lost a top-tier potential candidate on Friday when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's staff confirmed he would not run for U.S. Senate in 2014.

The former Iowa governor's decision, first reported by the Des Moines Register, clears a path for Rep. Bruce Braley in the Democratic race to succeed Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who's retiring.

With Iowa being the first-in-the-nation caucus state and a place that remains tough territory for any Democrat in a statewide race, the party has been eager to find someone like Vilsack, whose appeal has been tested among the state's conservative voters.

Republicans say Braley, who announced his candidacy on Feb. 7, doesn't fit that mold. On Friday they reacted positively to the news of Vilsack's decision. From National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring:

The [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] tried and failed to prevent Sen. Harkin's hand-chosen candidate, Rep. Bruce Braley, from a clear path to the nomination because they know his brand of liberalism is too far outside the mainstream for most Iowans. Now Democrats are stuck [with] a slick former head of the trial lawyers association and one of the most partisan members of Congress as their candidate, Bruce Braley.

But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee rejected that assertion, writing in a statement to Yahoo News: "In an attempt to distract from their waning influence within their own party, the NRSC has released a false and incomprehensible statement about Congressman Braley that only adds to the committee's embarrassment. Perhaps they should be more concerned about a field of candidates out of touch with mainstream Americans and a potential primary that will push the eventual nominee even further to the right.”

On the Republican side, Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham have expressed interest in the open-seat race.