Another hopeful likely in crowded GOP Senate race

DES MOINES – The scrum of Iowa Republicans running for U.S. Senate likely will grow even larger Tuesday when a former energy company executive is expected to enter the race.

Mark Jacobs, 51, a former chief executive officer of Texas-based Reliant Energy is holding a series of events around the state to share his plans regarding the 2014 Senate race. Jacobs, who lives in West Des Moines, has been exploring a run for months and is backed by some business-focused Republicans, including Des Moines lawyer Doug Gross. So far, no clear leader has emerged in the crowded GOP Senate field. The Republicans seeking to succeed retiring Democrat Tom Harkin include radio host Sam Clovis, state Sen. Joni Ernst, lawyer Paul Lunde, former car salesman Scott Schaben, former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker and former Senate aide David Young.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley of Waterloo is the only Democrat running.

Most of the state’s Republican office-holders opted out of the race, opening the doors for the lesser-known candidates. Jacobs, who declined to be interviewed before Tuesday, has a business background and personal wealth that could make him a formidable candidate.

“He stands out because of his ability to finance his campaign and for his background of a very successful business career,” said Darrell Kearney, finance director for the Polk County GOP.

The other GOP candidates in the race have not posted huge fundraising totals thus far, collectively raising less than $1 million during the last fundraising quarter, from July through September. Meanwhile, Braley is sitting on more than $2 million, with no competitive primary.

An Iowa native, Jacobs moved his family to his home state last year and founded an education nonprofit. He has spent the past few months attending county events and meeting with voters and has sent out at least one glossy mailer to tell voters about his Iowa roots and family history.

Gross said that if Jacobs runs, his record in business would appeal to voters and said he didn’t think the time outside the state would be viewed as a negative.

“I don’t think we’re an island,” Gross said. “We have other people who have spent a good deal of their careers outside the state.”

If no candidate gets 35 percent of the vote in the June primary election, the nominee will be selected at a GOP convention. But Gov. Terry Branstad said he thought the race would be decided in the primary.

“I think the more they get a chance to evaluate the candidates, we’ll see somebody emerge,” said Branstad, who has not endorsed a candidate, though Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is backing Ernst.

The Iowa Senate race is expected to be closely watched, as Republicans try to retake control of the U.S. Senate. The GOP needs six seats to regain the majority, and have some opportunities in states like Iowa where there have been Democratic retirements. But thus far Republican-leaning groups are spending less for the 2014 cycle than they did ahead two years ago.

Still, Republican pollster Greg Strimple said Democrats like Braley could have a tough time in 2014, given the rocky rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

“Right now, I don’t want to be the guy defending the ObamaCare law,” Strimple said.