DES MOINES – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tyler Olson says he is scaling back his campaign schedule to focus on family matters as he and his wife work through divorce proceedings.
“I am saddened to announce today that my wife, Sarah, and I are separating,” Olson said in a statement Monday. “This decision was made only after significant discussion and professional support to deal with the issues facing our marriage. We are working through divorce proceedings but remain friends whose No. 1 priority is the happiness and well being of our children.”
The Cedar Rapids representative, who made his young family a centerpiece of his campaign, said the situation is a personal matter but he felt it was necessary to make a public acknowledgement given that he is a candidate for his political party’s 2014 gubernatorial nomination. Olson, who met his wife while volunteering on the campaign of a Cedar Rapids legislative candidate, was first elected to the Iowa House in 2006. The couple has two children.
Olson, 37, said he remains a candidate for governor but he is scaling back his campaign events for the remainder of the year “to focus on my family and helping them through this transition.”
“I am deeply committed to this race for governor, as I believe Iowans will have greater opportunity with a governor with a strong, positive vision for the future,” Olson said in his statement. “I plan to resume my campaign after the holidays.”
Olson said the decision about whether to continue the race was complicated, starting with the needs of his children and his belief Iowans will have greater opportunity with a new perspective in Terrace Hill.
State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, a fellow Democrat, said Olson’s announcement caught him by surprise.
“It’s tough. It’s a tough situation. No doubt about it,” said Fitzgerald.
“I don’t know how it will affect the campaign. My heart goes out to him and his wife because that’s a hard thing to go through. A lot of Iowa families have had to do that. Hopefully it can be worked out for the best and move on,” he added.
David Peterson, an Iowa State University political science professor, said an announcement like Olson’s is “a relative rare thing to happen” and is a troubling development from both a personal and a campaign perspective.
“Running for office is hard. It takes a lot of time and energy, and so going through a personal crisis like this is going to detract from that,” Peterson said.
The ISU political scientist said it is difficult to speculate what impact the announcement could have on the four-person primary race not knowing the circumstances or what might transpire going forward. But he said the uncertainty associated with a development like this could prompt some hesitancy in primary voters who are looking to support the candidate with the best chance of defeating Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in the 2014 general election.
“Any Democrat running against Terry Branstad is going to have an uphill fight, and this is not going to make things easier,” Peterson noted.
Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, an announced 2014 gubernatorial candidate, issued a statement Monday saying: “This is a private matter and we should all respect the family’s privacy. These matters are always very hard and unpleasant for everyone involved. I wish Rep. Olson, Sarah, and their family the best as they work through this difficult time. I will not have any further comment.”
Democrats Bob Krause of Des Moines and Paul Dahl of Webster City also are competing against Olson and Hatch for their party’s gubernatorial nomination in Iowa’s June 2014 primary.
Branstad’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
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