WASHINGTON—Ever since Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, announced his retirement, speculation has focused on whether Reps. Tom Latham, R-Clive, or Steve King, R-Kiron, would seek the Republican nomination.
That palace intrigue has intensified with news that a project of American Crossroads, a Karl Rove-affiliated political entity, might engage in the primary to prevent King from winning the nomination. Gov. Branstad has rightly criticized this effort by Rove to play kingmaker. Democrats have also played up potential tensions between Latham and King, while hoping for a messy Republican primary as Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, sews up the Democratic nomination.
Gov. Branstad, in Washington, D.C. for the National Governors Association winter conference, entered the fray again Saturday with an interview with Politico.com addressing the King-Latham dynamic. What’s clear is that Branstad, in his classic folksy, honest style, has a deep respect and friendship with both congressmen. Democrats want Republicans to be divided, but it’s not likely that King or Latham will play into that game.
A transcript of the interview focused on the political news follows:
Politico.com: That open Senate seat, do you think that’s a race that Steve King can win?
Branstad: I think that we have two very fine congressmen… I think that Tom Latham would be the strongest candidate, because he’s represented 56 of the 99 counties in Iowa, and he’s carried every one of those except Polk County. And in the last election, he defeated an incumbent—Congressman Boswell.
While Obama carried Polk County by 30,000 votes, Latham only lost it by 3,000. He carried the county next door—Dallas County—by 10,000 and carried all the rural counties by a big margin. So, when you look at it, if Latham runs, he’s like the incumbent in 56 of the 99 counties in Iowa. I think he would win the Senate race.
I think Steve King is a very fine congressman, he’s been a great voice for agriculture and conservatism. He had a tough race against Christie Vilsack, who had a lot of money and whose husband is the Secretary of Agriculture. He beat her very decisively, but he needs to consolidate his strength in the new part of the district, and if he wants to run for the Senate, get better acquainted in Eastern Iowa.
So, I think that both of ‘em are very fine people and good friends of mine, but I just think because of the experience and—this comes from going through a couple different reapportionments—but Tom Latham has represented Northwest Iowa, North Central Iowa, Northeast Iowa, now Southwest Iowa, and Polk County—the Capital City—and a big chunk of Central Iowa. So, 56 of the 99 counties, and he’s very well-liked, and he’s carried every one of those counties except Polk, and I think in the next election, he will carry Polk.
Politico.com: Do you see them running against each other?
Branstad: I don’t think so, and I’ve had breakfast with both of ‘em. You know, they’re both good friends of mine, and I’ve encouraged them, you know, to talk to each other, and make the decision, but I would hope that, someday—I’d love to see them both in the U.S. Senate, but I think that Tom Latham would be the most experienced and strongest candidate and this time.
Politico.com: Is King too extreme or not effective as a campaigner?
Branstad: No, because he beat Christie Vilsack, and he beat her going away. And I tell ya, I had some of the guys from my office that took a leave of absence to help with his campaign. Jake Ketzner was the campaign manager, Jimmy Centers was the communications director, and I’ve run against a couple women—you’ve got to be real careful. She spent all her time attacking him. He agreed to 7 debates. That’s a lot of debates. He never lost his cool. He stayed very focused. And she came across as somebody that’s just an attacker, but had no substance or back-up to the attack.
And he showed himself to be a knowledgable, experienced, effective, congressman. And her husband is the Secretary of Agriculture. All of the agriculture groups supported Steve King. He won all but 7 counties in this very large district. All of the old district he won by a landslide. In the new counties, he won all but 7 counties. And my advice to him is to work on those 7 counties and get better acquainted in Eastern Iowa, but I think that could take some time.
Politico.com: So, you personally would be supporting Latham in a primary?
Branstad: We’re not going to have a primary, and I’m gonna support both of my congressmen. And I want to see them both continuing to represent Iowa. And I just think that Latham would be the strongest candidate for the Senate at this time. And I feel confident that he would be a great vote-getter in our state.
Politico.com: How frustrated were you that American Crossroads targeted Steve King as a Todd Akin-figure?
Branstad: I think that’s unfair. And I called Karl Rove and told him so.
Check out Politico.com’s follow-up story.
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