Former US attorney challenges Grassley aide in Iowa GOP Senate primary

A pair of Republican candidates have entered the contest for the GOP Senate nomination in Iowa, vying for the opportunity to face Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) in a race to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Matt Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney appointed by former President George W. Bush, announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination at an event Monday in Ankeny, Iowa. 

“This is going to be a big election with big ideas,” Whitaker said in a statement. “I want to go to Washington to fix what is broken. We must get government out of the way of people’s personal lives, economic decisions, healthcare arrangements, small businesses and Constitutional freedoms.”

Whitaker will face off against David Young, a longtime aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) who also worked for former Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).

“Making this move to advocate for Iowans at a higher level alongside my friend and mentor Senator Chuck Grassley is a risk I deem well worth taking," Young said in a release obtained by The Iowa Gazette.

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Whitaker played college football at the University of Iowa and ran for state treasurer in 2002. He lost that race to incumbent Michael Fitzgerald by 12 points. He first indicated last month he planned to run for Harkin's seat. 

At his campaign announcement on Monday, Whitaker sought to link Braley to President Obama and expressed concern about a ballooning, intrusive federal government. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that Bruce Braley and Barack Obama will not make America strong. They will not have better days under their leadership," he said, according to the Des Moines Register

“We’ve got a government that spies on its people, that steals from our future, and that taxes beyond what is appropriate and necessary for small businesses." 

A number of high-profile Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), have all announced they do not plan to seek the nomination, leaving a wide-open playing field for the GOP.

Some Republicans privately told The Hill last month they were concerned all the potential candidates would struggle to beat Braley.

“I have a hard time, with this current field, seeing any of them winning the general election,” Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Republican Party of Iowa, told The Hill. “It's going to be difficult.”

—Cameron Joseph contributed.

Updated at 12:50 p.m.