Democratic state senator launches run for governor

DES MOINES – Billing himself as a liberal fighter who can best take on Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in a general election, Democratic state Sen. Jack Hatch announced Monday that he will run for governor in 2014.

Hatch, 63, who launched an exploratory committee earlier in the year, pledged to boost the minimum wage, make college more affordable and continue expanding access to health care. He kicked off his campaign Monday in Des Moines, with stops planned in 20 other Iowa cities over the next four days.

While Hatch will first face Cedar Rapids state Rep. Tyler Olson in the June Democratic primary, his remarks focused on challenging Branstad, who is widely expected to seek a sixth term. Beating the longstanding and popular governor in a state that heavily favors incumbents will be a difficult task, but Hatch said his record shows he is the best candidate for the job.

“I will keep fighting the big guy on behalf of the little guy everywhere, anywhere, all the time,” said Hatch, who staged his announcement in a weedy field outside an abandoned factory. The site previously housed a manufacturer targeted by Hatch for polluting water. “That’s why I am in public service. That is my responsibility.”

Branstad, 66, served four terms before leaving in early 2002. He then came back to run against Democratic Gov. Chet Culver in 2009 and succeeded, taking office in 2011. He has not yet announced his plans, but has established a campaign operation that is fundraising and recruiting volunteers.

A spokesman for Branstad’s campaign operation put out a series of press releases touting Branstad’s economic record. Olson released a statement Monday welcoming Hatch to the campaign.

Citing his years representing Des Moines in the state House and state Senate, Hatch said he had stood up to Branstad and advocated for environmental safety and health care expansion. Hatch, who also works as a real estate developer, has served in the Senate since 2003 and did two previous stints in the House.

Asked about Olson, 37, who is portraying himself as the fresh new face in the race, Hatch declined to comment, saying he was focused on Branstad. Compared to previous Democratic challengers against Branstad, Hatch has little statewide profile. He acknowledged that he would need to boost his name recognition throughout the state.

“I do have to introduce myself,” he said. “I’m not just a Des Moines politician. I’m a politician that cares about Iowa.”

Hatch took a shot at Branstad in August over an incident where his official vehicle was found to be speeding and the investigator who reported the incident was fired. Hatch briefly ran a television ad dubbed “Smokey and the Branstad” that argued that the governor thought he was above the law.