It began in late February when Congressman Tom Latham announced that he would forego a bid for the Senate and instead focus on representing Iowa’s Third Congressional District, which, at the time, he had only represented for 56 days. Latham’s decision not to seek the seat currently occupied by Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin disappointed many Republican activists who viewed Latham as the GOP’s strongest possible candidate.
With Latham out of the mix, Iowa Republicans turned their attention to Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Congressman Steve King. Each would be a formidable statewide candidate, but in the last two weeks all three have officially taken a pass on a 2014 U.S. Senate campaign.
The state of Iowa hasn’t seen an open U.S. Senate seat in forty years, and yet, the best-known Republicans in the state have taken a pass. That is something that hasn’t been lost on the national media, who have been trying to understand how so many big-name politicians could pass up what could be the best opportunity to win a seat in the most exclusive club in the world, the United State’s Senate.
To be fair, it’s not just the media that’s scratching their heads. Republican activists are also bewildered. While there are still plenty of options for Republicans to explore, it’s also important to understand why those who were perceived as the strongest candidates took a pass.
Some reporters have hinted that some Iowa Republicans may be taking a pass on the race because raising the money necessary to win the seat may be a difficult task. While raising the 15 to 20 million it might take to win a primary and general election will be difficult, Republicans are not scared of what it will take to put together a formidable campaign. The presumptive Democrat nominee, Congressman Bruce Braley, has posted impressive fundraising numbers, but he’s not scaring off potential Republican challengers either.
To understand what’s going on, one needs to look to the past and the future. King and Latham are both coming off high-profile races in 2012. Redistricting pitted Latham against another member of congress. Latham never really struggled in his 2012 campaign, but facing off with another member of congress means you have to bring your “A” game. For the first time since being elected to congress in 2002, King drew a tough, well-funded opponent in former Iowa First Lady Christy Vilsack.
The two high-profile contests required extra effort from King and Latham, and so turning right around and taking on a U.S. Senate campaign is probably not all that appealing. The 2012 campaigns in the 3rd and 4th District also required both King and Latham to spend most, if not all, their time campaigning on their district.
Another factor that cannot be ignored is that Harkin’s retirement caught Republicans completely off guard. Many times candidates with an eye towards future elections will begin to travel around the state to build relationships and boost their name ID. In 2012, Republicans were focused on winning congressional seats and local legislative races, not statewide elections.
In regards to Reynolds and Northey, the timing may not have been right for them, and both will likely have other opportunities to explore in the near future. Reynolds was an intriguing possibility. She has all the raw materials that one looks for in a statewide candidate, yet her role as Lt. Governor has not allowed her to define who she is politically beyond being Governor Terry Branstad’s running mate.
Reynolds and Northey could also be looking towards future opportunities instead of the one that is available today. Both could look at running for governor in 2018, and Senator Grassley is up for re-election in 2016. It is possible that Grassley could follow Harkin and retire, but it’s also easy to see him run for another term. Either way, Reynolds and Northey are young enough to look down the road for future opportunities.
While Republicans may be a little disappointed that these four have decided not to run for the U.S. Senate, there decision to stay put may actually beneficial to whoever becomes the Republican nominee. Having Latham and King running for re-election in 2012 should help the Republican ticket in their districts. Latham has already shown he can run well in Polk County, even with President Obama on the ballot, but Branstad and Reynolds also run strong in areas where Republicans sometimes struggle.
There is also something to be said about breathing new life into the Republican Party. It’s obvious why Latham and King would have been formidable U.S. Senate candidates, but running a sitting member of congress against Braley might not be the ideal matchup. Governor Branstad alluded to this in his weekly press conference last week, but the media was too busy trying to make his words into a swipe against King rather than his intended target, Braley.
The easiest opponent for Braley to run against would have been one with an extensive record. With King and Latham out of the race, Braley is now the hunted instead of the hunter. Braley is now the one with an extensive record that he will have to defend against his Republican opponent. This allows the Republican candidate to be the aggressor, just like Republicans were in 2010 when they posted wins from county court houses to the halls of congress.
On a final note, many voters are disgusted with politicians today. While many politicians are outstanding public servants, they are all perceived as being hyper-partisan and ego driven individuals. That’s obviously not the case with King, Latham, Northey, and Reynolds. All four of them made it clear that they wanted to continue to represent Iowans in the capacity to which they were elected.
The world of politics is full of people trying to climb the career ladder. It’s refreshing to see that these four individuals are not driven by ego, but rather by public service. That’s something to celebrate, even if we wanted them to seek higher office.
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