(Reuters) - Former South Dakota Republican Governor Mike Rounds said on Thursday he will run in 2014 for a U.S. Senate seat now held by a Democrat, the second state where a Republican has jumped into the campaign two years before the election.
The announcement by Rounds came just weeks after President Barack Obama won re-election and Democrats unexpectedly strengthened their U.S. Senate majority. Rounds is running for the seat now held by Democratic Senator Tim Johnson.
Republican U.S. Representative Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia on Monday said she would run for the U.S. Senate seat of incumbent Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, who was first elected to the Senate in 1984.
The early entry of Republicans sparked speculation that they are trying to encourage the veteran Democrats to retire rather than face a long and expensive race for reelection.
Republicans failed to capitalize on several opportunities to gain seats in the Senate this year because of nasty battles between conservatives and more traditional Republicans in primaries, and gaffes by candidates during the campaign.
They lost Senate elections in Indiana and Missouri after conservative candidates made controversial comments about abortion and rape that hurt their support, particularly among women.
Democrats gained two seats in the election and now hold a Senate majority of 53 to 45, plus two independents who caucus with Democrats.
Rounds, 58, was elected governor in 2002 after serving a decade in the South Dakota state Senate and was reelected in 2006. Rounds is chief executive of an independent insurance agency with an office in Pierre, the state capital.
"I am here today to ask the people of South Dakota for their support and to allow me to work for them as their United States Senator in 2014," Rounds said in an appearance in Sioux Falls.
Rounds said there were many problems to solve at the federal level including deficit spending, healthcare reforms and fixing Social Security, and he urged cooperation in solving them.
"We need to become a country of cooperation instead of confrontation," Rounds said, adding that many of the most important decisions would be made in the U.S. Senate.
Johnson said in a statement he would wait until later in 2013 to announce his formal plans, "But I feel great, still have work to do, and I fully intend to put together a winning campaign in the weeks and months ahead."
Johnson was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996. He nearly died in December 2006 after suffering from bleeding into his brain, but returned to full Senate work in September 2007.
Johnson, who also served five terms in the U.S. House, said he had an excellent working relationship with Rounds while Rounds was South Dakota's governor.
"I consider Mike a friend, and I welcome him to the race," Johnson said.
(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Greg McCune and Eric Walsh)