Iowa’s Latham a No-Go for Senate Race

Rep. Tom Latham

Rep. Tom Latham

Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA-3) announced yesterday that he will not seek the open Iowa Senate seat next year. His decision is not particularly surprising. Iowa insiders had been indicating for more than a week that the 10-term congressman was leaning against launching a statewide bid.

In publicizing his decision, Latham indicated that he had just been re-elected to the House in a much different post-redistricting CD — in fact, 83 percent of the constituents are new to him — and a two-year statewide campaign would take him away from properly fulfilling his current responsibilities.

Politically, though he was commonly seen as the best general election candidate the Republicans could field, he faced a major obstacle in the GOP primary. Rep. Steve King (R-IA-4), fresh from his own convincing re-election victory over a strong and well-known Democratic opponent, commands the inside track to the Senate nomination. King is backed with vigorous Tea Party support and enjoys strong grassroots presence for his Republican nomination campaign, which are major factors.

Late January and early February polling provided us a quick glimpse into how the party faithful was already breaking. According to a previously reported Public Policy Polling survey (Feb. 1-3; 326 Iowa Republican primary voters), King blitzed Latham 50-27 percent in a hypothetical head-to-head square-off. If Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds was added to the candidate mix, the western state congressman prevailed in that scenario 41-22-10 percent against Latham and she, respectively.

Harper Polling (Jan. 29; 200 Iowa Republican primary voters), despite pulling a very small survey sample, still produced numbers similar to that of PPP. According to this slightly earlier data, King held a comparable, but tighter, 46-29 percent advantage over Rep. Latham. Harper then added Bob Vander Platts, a known Tea Party-backed former gubernatorial candidate to the list of contenders. Even under this cut King still led, but by a closer 31-26-16 percent split over Latham and Vander Platts, in that order.

Right now, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) is the only announced senatorial candidate. His strongest Democratic opponent, US Agriculture Secretary and former Gov. Tom Vilsack, has already pulled himself from consideration for the Senate campaign, thus giving the eastern Iowa congressman what appears to be an unencumbered path to the Democratic nomination. Though King has yet to announce, he soon will, particularly now with his strongest two opponents — Rep. Latham and Gov. Terry Branstad – also out of the way.

All of this means that the general election field might already be set, some 15 months before the June 2014 primary election. Since both Rep. King and Rep. Braley are starting quickly within their respective parties with their top potential opponents bypassing the race, they now have the opportunity of shutting out the second-tier candidates even before the latter begins to assemble a campaign apparatus.

Having an unopposed primary will be critical for King’s chances against Braley. Already taking hits from the moderate Republicans and thought to be an early target of the new Karl Rove organization that will attempt to pave the way for the candidate that Rove believes is most electable in the general election, the GOP must now instead coalesce behind King in order to strengthen him for the general election.

While clear that Braley would have to be considered about a 10-point favorite in the early going, Iowa is a highly competitive and quirky political state. Anything can, and often does, happen in the realm of Hawkeye State electoral politics.

Even knowing that Latham will not participate in the statewide campaign, the Iowa Senate race still remains as one of the top political attractions of the 2014 election cycle.

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