DES MOINES – With Iowa U.S. Rep. Tom Latham’s decision not to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014, all eyes are on his GOP colleague Rep. Steve King.
King is considering a bid to succeed Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who announced his retirement, but is a statement released Wednesday afternoon said it’s “too big a decision to be rushed.”
King, who’s serving his sixth term, appears to be the strongest candidate in the GOP stable, but not the only Republican eyeing the race. While he has the name identification and profile to allow him to delay a decision, time could work against him if another Republican decides to run, according to people watching the race develop.
“Congressman Latham might have cleared the field if he had decided to run,” according to Tim Hagle, who teaches political science at the University of Iowa, “but with King, someone might be willing to challenge him because they might think he’s not as likely to win the general election.”
Meanwhile, Iowa Democrats apparently have settled on 1st District Rep Bruce Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, as their candidate to replace Harkin. Braley is traveling the state to introduce himself to Iowans and build his campaign organization.
Regardless of who the GOP nominee is, it won’t change the outcome, according to Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Tyler Olson.
“I was confident Rep. Braley would win the day he announced,” Olson said, “and I’m only getting more confident every day.”
As King makes his decision, the former state legislator will have to decide whether his “is a regional niche message or a mainstream Iowa message,” Olson said.
Latham, 64, of Clive – who defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Leonard Boswell in a 2012 incumbent versus incumbent race – was seen as that mainstream candidate. He appeared to have the backing of former White House political adviser Karl Rove, who is encouraging moderate Republicans to run, and Gov. Terry Branstad recently seemed to indicate a preference for Latham over King.
It’s moot, however, now that Latham, who represented about two-thirds of the state during his 10-term congressional tenure announced in an email Wednesday that despite the support of many Iowans who reached out to him after Harkin announced his retirement, he would not run.
“I cannot in good conscience launch a two-year statewide campaign that will detract from the commitment I made to the people who elected me,” he wrote, especially “at a time when our nation desperately needs less campaigning and more leadership.”
The GOP nomination probably is King’s if he wants it, observers said.
“If you look at the chatter, he’s the person people are looking at the most,” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker said.
King has high name recognition and after a challenging race against former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack has established himself as a disciplined campaigner.
“He thrives on challenges,” said Rep. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig. “He’s risen to every challenge he’s faced.”
Running for the Senate could present a very different challenge. Although King is well-known across Iowa, his popularity with the social conservatives in the party comes at a price.
Democrats have done a good job of “demonizing” King, portraying him as a “right-wing reactionary,” Hagle said.
Olson made clear that King’s record will be “prominently and loudly discussed.”
However, Spiker believes that good or bad, “name ID is name ID” and the more Democrats attack King the stronger his support will grow.
“There’s something very valuable in firing up the base,” Spiker said. “When you have a candidate who can fire up the base, you can’t put a dollar figure on that. If you’re loved by the base, the work you get out of the base will be worth millions.”
If King decides not to run for the Senate, there are several Republicans who may step forward, Spiker said. That pool is “larger than you think” and would include legislators and statewide elected officials.