JOHNSTON -- Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said Friday he'll decide by next summer whether to challenge incumbent Democratic Gov. Chet Culver in 2010.
"I think you certainly wait until after this session to see where things go," said Northey, a Republican. "I think it's six months or so out for me to be able to make a decision by the end of summer."
Northey conceded that winning election against an incumbent governor would be difficult, but he said a sour economy and the state's budget snarls could create an opening.
"We're going through very challenging times," Northey said. "To provide an alternative to some of the spending we've seen, maybe some of the additional spending that's out there, the economic times we're going through and the management the governor has may be a ticket to be able to provide an alternative."
Northey, speaking during a taping of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program, said that if he decides to run, he would focus on Culver's handing of the state budget. Republicans argue that the state's budget mess was caused largely because Culver and Democrats who control the Legislature spent too much in the last two years.
Before being elected agriculture secretary, Northey grew corn and soybeans on a farm near Spirit Lake. He formerly was president of the National Corn Growers Association.
He was elected to statewide office in 2006, a year dominated by Democrats and an achievement that landed him on the short list of Republicans in the running to challenge Culver.
"I'm keeping the door open for running, but I'm very happy with what I'm doing," Northey said.
Both history and political reality would make a challenge to Culver an uphill struggle, Northey conceded, with Iowans typically showing a willingness to return governors to office.
Former Gov. Robert Ray served for 14 years, former Gov. Terry Branstad topped that with a 16-year tenure and former Gov. Tom Vilsack was in office for eight years and probably could have stayed there if he hadn't chosen to launch a brief bid for the presidency. None of the three faced serious challenges, despite serving during troubled economic times.
"It's very tough in this state to be able to do that," said Northey. "We haven't seen a history of being able to do that and that has to be part of the analysis for anybody thinking of running for governor."
Northey said a factor in his decision would be his chances of winning.
"It's important to win if you're going to do a race like that," he said.
History does offer one hopeful sign to those Republicans who decide to run -- the party not holding the White House usually fares well in mid-term elections.
"I think it works in all Republicans' favor, history would have that potential," said Northey. "It's certainly no given that it's a Republican year."
Though the election is almost two years away, pressure is mounting for potential challengers to make a decision.
Financial disclosure reports this month show the governor has nearly $1.5 million in the bank, and he has a strong record of raising money. In addition, the political organization that helped Culver get elected remains intact, and Democrats have built a voter registration edge of more than 111,000 people.
Raising money and putting together an organization take time, and Northey said he understands the demands.
"We'll talk to a lot of folks and see who they're interested in supporting," said Northey. "There's a lot of pieces to put together to run a successful campaign."