Congressman Tom Latham’s decision to not run for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat changes the entire complexion of the 2014 race, from the top of the ballot to the bottom. There was widespread agreement that Latham gave Iowa Republicans their best chance to capture the seat long held by liberal Tom Harkin. Now, that mantle shifts from Iowa’s Third Congressional District to the Fourth, where conservative firebrand Steve King resides.
King told TheIowaRepublican.com more than two weeks ago that he was leaning toward running for the senate seat, but was not close to making a decision. Judging from the statement released by the congressman on Wednesday, that announcement will still not be forthcoming in the immediate future.
“A potential Senate race remains an analytical decision first and then one that requires deep conviction. Such a decision includes, of course, my family and the best interests of Iowans and Americans. It is too big a decision to be rushed,” King said.
Congressman Latham told WHO Radio’s Simon Conway that he informed Congressman King of his decision not to run for the senate seat on Wednesday afternoon, just prior to publicly announcing it in an email to supporters.
“We really had not had any conservations, actually technically we were scheduled I think tomorrow to actually sit down and talk about the race,” Latham said. “But we had not had any discussions about it.”
While King and Latham had not discussed the race with each other, conservative activists across Iowa have spent the past month contemplating the race. TheIowaRepublican.com conducted interviews with prominent Republicans from different corners of the state, in preparation for an article about the GOP primary.
Latham’s decision not to run causes a dramatic shift in the conservation and creates even more uncertainty for Iowa Republicans. Instead of debating which congressman would be better or discussing which would run for the senate seat, the discussion moves to whether or not Steve King will enter the race, if he can win the general election against likely Democrat nominee Bruce Braley, and if King doesn’t run, who else stands a chance.
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley said last week that Steve King and Tom Latham were the two Republicans who stood the best chance to win.
“We will have other good Republicans who would make good senate candidates, but the reason I said between those two, it’s not my idea to eliminate other people because I’m not going to get involved in the primary, but each one of them have run in about half of the state so they’re pretty well known and they aren’t starting out from ground zero,” Grassley said.
Bob Anderson, a State Central Committee member from Iowa City, mentioned other statewide elected Republicans like Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and State Auditor David Vaudt as potentially viable candidates.
“I don’t know if they’re interested,” Anderson said. “I think we’ve got a field of strong possible candidates and I think with the right candidate and the right party backing we can win it.”
Anderson also believes contrasting Steve King’s conservative stances with Bruce Braley’s liberal point of view would make for a very interesting race, and one King could win.
“What was it Ronald Reagan said: ‘We hold up a panel of bold colors, no pale pastels.’ So, the right salesman with the right product can do the job. I have great admiration for Congressman King too,” Anderson said.
Brent Siegrist of Council Bluffs is a former Speaker of the Iowa House. He narrowly lost the 2002 GOP congressional primary to King at convention. Siegrist believes King would have a more difficult time in a general election than Latham would have.
“If those two opt out, I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Siegrist said. “The lieutenant governor, I like Kim (Reynolds) a lot, there would be some other people to look at it. I talked briefly to Steve Sukup and he said he wasn’t interested, so I don’t know. If those two don’t go, it’ll be tough.”
Siegrist also pointed out the difficulty Bill Northey, David Vaudt or Matt Schultz might have in a U.S. Senate race, despite currently holding a statewide office.
“Those statewide races, although they’re statewide races, you’re only spending $200,000 as opposed to $20 million,” Siegrist said. “The Democrats are going with Braley. He’s a good candidate for them.”
Chuck Laudner is a longtime confidant of Steve King. The conservative activist and former executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa hopes King enters the U.S. Senate race. He believes a King candidacy is exactly what the party needs.
“I do, and I first preface that by saying I think 2014 is going to be a Republican year and I think a number of Republican candidates could win,” Laudner said. “However, it is going to be a battle. The Democrats are going to throw everything at it that they possibly can. We have to have someone who’s going to go toe-to-toe with them and can raise the money and has a grassroots network. You need someone like Steve King.”
Laudner pointed out that the various factions inside the Iowa GOP have not been truly energized and united since at least the presidential race of 2004. He thinks a Republican primary for the senate seat would be healthy for the party and would help provide the organizational tools necessary to win the general election.
“After the last election, we need to rebuild this party at the grassroots level,” Laudner said. “We have no organization at the precinct level to speak of, maybe little pockets of it. The only way that you can build that kind of organization, honestly, is in a primary. We have to have the excuse to build this up.”
Don Racheter, a longtime activist from Johnson County, believes Steve King would fare well in rural areas in a statewide race, but is likely to struggle in urban places like Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport. Racheter also pointed out that, if there is a Republican primary, the party must come together once it concludes.
“We have got to put our best foot forward and get out the grassroots Republicans,” Racheter said. “We cannot afford to have people sit home on their hands because they’re miffed that their favorite person did not get the nomination.”
“I definitely want to see a conservative run for this,” said Sheila Murphy, chair of the Harrison County GOP. “I don’t buy into idea that we have to have a more moderate candidate to win eastern Iowa. We just have to have a good communicator with conservative values who can sell the message. That’s what it takes.”
Every poll that has been released so far shows Congressman King as the favorite to win the GOP primary. They also showed Congressman Latham as best Republican candidate in a general election. However, in Chuck Laudner’s view, Steve King was the man for the job before Latham decided not to run.
“I think we have to have what our opponents the last time called ‘the Holy War’. I think that’s what we need on our side. We need the wake up call. That’s personally why I want Steve King to run.”
Photo by Dave Davidson
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