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Vote 2014: Cedar Rapids Democrat Olson Joins Race for Governor

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Bottom line, Tyler Olson's campaign for governor will be about offering voters a fresh vision and perspective of Iowa's potential.

A state representative for the past six years, Olson will announce Tuesday that he'll seek the Democratic nomination for governor.

Olson plans to draw a sharp contrast between the perspective of Gov. Terry Branstad and a new vision of what Iowa can become, he said Monday afternoon.

"The world has changed a lot since the early 1980s" when Branstad was first elected to the first of his five terms, Olson said. "I think Iowa is in a unique position to have a period of serious economic expansion and growth, but it's going to require leadership that understands the changes and the pace of those changes, and can articulate a vision to start the next 30 years."

In short, Olson said, "I think Iowans are ready to begin the next 30 years rather than living at the end of the last 30."

Olson, 37, will formally announce his entry into the race for the Democratic nomination at news conferences in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Mason City today.

He enters the race not only as a legislator, but as vice president of fourth generation electrical contracting company started by his great-grandfather that now has more than 150 employees and offices in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Waterloo.

It's a rapidly changing industry, "So I understand the need for flexibility and the need to move forward," he said.

He's convinced Branstad, a five-term Republican, does not and that, in a nutshell, is what the campaign will be about.

For example, Olson called for a new approach to economic development that "takes some of the single-minded focus off landing the big fish and puts it on entrepreneurs, small business, Main Street business."

"Economic development is becoming more about the competition for talent," he said.

His vision for education is to see students not as "units moving down an assembly line," but one that "understands that we need to get the most out of every child and that means flexibility and local decision-making and individualized education."

The frequent references to the last 30 years versus the next 30 years are not to make the race about age, Olson said. At 37, he's the same age as Branstad, now 66, was when he became governor in 1983.

"Clearly we're different ages," Olson said. "To me it's not a factor of years as opposed to a fresh vision and perspective that can move the state forwards."

Age in itself shouldn't be an obstacle for Olson, Christian Fong of Cedar Rapids, a Republican who at age 32 briefly explored a gubernatorial bid in 2010, said Monday.

"The key obstacle to a 30-something running for governor is the last 30-something who became governor is tremendously popular still," said Fong, who considers Olson a personal friend.

Recent polling confirms that Branstad remains popular with Iowans and most handicappers pick him to win re-election.

Although there's been little polling on the 2014 gubernatorial race that included Olson, the results aren't encouraging for a Branstad challenger. A June Iowa Poll included Olson in "possible candidates" and found that 13 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of him, 15 percent an unfavorable opinion and 72 percent weren't sure.

A February Public Policy Polling poll found 45 percent of Iowa voters approve of the job Branstad is doing and 44 percent disapprove. PPP also found Branstad crushing Olson 47 to 31 percent in a head-to-head matchup.

A May poll by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found Branstad has a 49 to 31 percent job approval rating from Iowa registered voters.

Poll numbers will go up and down a lot between now and November 2014, Olson said.

"In a lot of ways, the main question of the campaign has as much to do with me or anybody else in the race as it does with answering whether we want to remain at the end of the last 30 years or begin the next 30," he explained. "I think there is a compelling case to be made that we can have broader economic growth, more sustainable economic growth, if we take a fresh perspective to some of the issues that we face."

For his part, Branstad has said he'll announce his plans in 2014, but has made little secret of his desire to run again. Monday he announced his campaign has $2 million on hand and he hired four staffers to "begin laying the groundwork for a potential re-election run in 2014."

Olson is "absolutely prepared" for a primary. Sen. Jack Hatch and former lawmaker Bob Krause, both of Des Moines, are looking at mounting gubernatorial campaigns, and Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, hasn't ruled out running.

If elected, Olson would be the second Iowa governor from Cedar Rapids. Republican attorney Bourne Hickenlooper was the 29th governor, serving from 1943-45 after serving as lieutenant governor and before being elected to the U.S. Senate.

In addition to representing much of southeast Cedar Rapids in the Iowa House since 2007, Olson has been involved in local government. He was treasurer of Citizens for a Better Cedar Rapids that led the campaign to change Cedar Rapids form of government from commission to mayor-city council.

In the GOP-controlled House, Olson has been the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. He led the opposition to Republicans' property tax reform, pushing instead a Senate Democratic proposal. He's also served on Ethics, Commerce and Judiciary committees.

A sixth generation Iowan born and raised in Cedar Rapids, Olson was an All-American swimmer at Claremont McKenna College and a University of Iowa law school graduate.

He and his wife, Sarah, have two children.

His website,, which yesterday contained the simple message: "We're building an all-new, a fresh website for fresh ideas," will go live today.