Christie Vilsack, the wife of Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, announced Wednesday she is taking the first step toward running for Congress by relocating to Iowa's new 4th District.
"The decision to run for Congress deserves serious consideration," Vilsack said in a statement. "Next month I will move to Ames and continue to explore the possibility of representing Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives."
Spokesman Matt Paul said Vilsack has been considering her options, and the approval of new congressional districts prompted her to form an exploratory committee to study a run for the Democratic nomination. If she won in the primary, she would face Republican Rep. Steve King, who has represented the former 5th District for five terms.
King, of Kiron, already has announced his plans to seek another term in Congress.
Vilsack said she would launch a listening tour of the 4th District.
"It's important to listen to Iowa families about the issues they want addressed in Congress," said Vilsack. "Hearing directly from citizens about their concerns and ideas is very important to me. Too often in campaigns it's the other way around."
Vilsack has lived in Mount Pleasant, a district that has been represented by Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack.
Vilsack has long harbored ambitions to run for Congress, and she was a frequent campaigner for her husband during his two successful campaigns for governor.
She will face a significant challenge in seeking to represent the 4th District, made up of 39 counties. It's the state's most Republican district, with about 40,000 more Republicans than Democrats.
State election officials said there are 176,310 registered Republicans in the district, compared to 135,562 registered Democrats. There are, however, 177,143 voters registered without declaring a party preference.
King issued a statement saying he looked forward to the race. "We have built very strong and effective relationships in the current 5th District and I'm looking forward to establishing similar relationships with residents of the new 4th District as we make plans for the 2012 election," said King.
King has frequently made headlines with his comments. He once argued that President Barack Obama favored blacks over whites, and he argued that the media overplayed abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. He described those abuses as "hazing." He also compiled his own civilian death rate in Iraq and said living there was safer than in American cities like New Orleans and Detroit.
King has become something of a national figure in conservative circles, and has hosted potential presidential candidates testing the waters for Iowa's leadoff caucuses. He is often allied with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann as she explores a run for the nomination.
Vilsack vowed to bring the debate closer to home.
"More than anything this should be a discussion about Iowa values _ the value of work, the value of opportunity and the value of community," said Vilsack. "Input from fellow Iowans will help me make the best decision and will give our state a campaign focused on collaboration and results."
Vilsack's decision is the latest move prompted by the new congressional districts. Republican Rep. Tom Latham was tossed into King's district by the new map, but he decided to move to avoid a primary. He will challenge Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell in the new 3rd District.
Loebsack had been paired with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in a northeast Iowa district. Loebsack announced plans to move into southeast Iowa's new 2nd District.
The challenge to King likely will be one of the featured congressional races in the fall. King is a tea party favorite and has become a leading spokesman for the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Iowa and Mississippi are the only two states that never have elected a woman to Congress.