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Vote 2014: Culver Eyeing Rematch with Branstad

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Ready for a rematch?

Former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver is considering another run for the state's top office, challenging Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in 2014.

"I'm certainly keeping my options open," the one-term Democrat said recently.

Some Iowa Republicans were quick to express doubt the former high school teacher will run in 2014, but Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the possibility is one "we take very seriously."

Culver, 46, believes he had a great record of accomplishment from 2007-11 and is receiving encouragement to run again.

"Quite a bit, actually," said Culver, who now leads The Culver Group that provides strategic consulting to public and private sector entities, primarily on renewable energy issues.

Culver, who campaigned in five states for President Obama, enjoyed being back on the campaign trail --- "the fun part of politics."

Even before working as an Obama surrogate, Culver was thinking about 2014.

"At the supermarket, people come up to me and tell me I should run again," he said. "I'm encouraged by the level of support from Democrats, generally."

He'll begin actively exploring a 2014 run in the next few months, Culver said.

"I'm not going to rush it but I'll continue to have conversations with supporters and friends," he said. Candidates have until March 14, 2014, to put their names on the primary election ballot.

Longtime GOP activist and Branstad associate Doug Gross calls a rematch unlikely.

"Branstad would win with a bigger margin," the Des Moines attorney said. "Iowans would just compare the state of the state with Culver and then Branstad. Case closed."

"Gov. Culver's years of deficit spending and higher unemployment versus Gov. Branstad's consistent balancing of Iowa's budget, coupled with Iowa's lowest unemployment rate in four years, is a rigorous debate that would give Iowans a clear choice," Albrecht said.

It would be a clear choice, said Culver, who believes he had a great record to run on in 2010, but was hurt by the national economy.

"We got through some difficult times," he said. That includes state assistance to Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Coralville and many other Eastern Iowa communities damaged by flooding in 2008.

He'll remind Iowans that during the Culver administration the minimum wage was increased, smoking was banned in nearly all workplaces, preschool opportunities were expanded and more children received health care coverage.

That may not be the best message to take to Iowans, suggested Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican.

"I suppose Culver could campaign on the expansion of government health care, labor union priorities, stimulus spending and liberal social policies, but I don't think that sort of platform is what Iowans are really looking for in a governor," Robinson said. "I also believe that most Iowans are satisfied with the job Gov. Branstad has done since returning to office."

Apparently Culver is not the only Democrat who thinks Iowans are dissatisfied with Branstad, 66, who has been raising money like he's planning a re-election campaign. No one has officially declared their candidacy, but the list of those interested or being mentioned is growing.

Louis Jacobson, who watches state politics for Governing, offers five names in addition to Culver: Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, and Sens. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids, Jack Hatch of Des Moines and Jeff Danielson of Cedar Falls. State Rep. Tyler Olson of Cedar Rapids also is mentioned as a Branstad challenger.

Jacobson also mentioned former Iowa Democratic operative John Norris, now with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as a potential dark horse.

And former Gov. Tom Vilsack and his wife Christie Vilsack, who was an unsuccessful congressional candidate this year, also are mentioned as possible candidates.

Culver's not afraid of mixing it up with other Democrats in a primary. Culver won primaries when he ran for his first of two terms as Secretary of State and to get the party's nomination for governor.

"As long as I work hard and take my message to the people I can be successful," Culver said.

Neither is he concerned that one unsuccessful race will disqualify him in the minds of Iowa Democratic voters.

"No one has had that conversation with me," he said.

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