RED WAR: Blood Bath Prediction

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I’m not buying it. The Washington Post floated the idea of an uber-mega-epic bloody primary battle in this state like few Iowans remember: Tom Latham versus Steve King. It would be Iowa’s political steel cage match, a pay-per-view worthy extravaganza to see which one of Iowa’s Republican congressman could win the nomination as the party tries to take the seat now held by Democratic Senator Tom Harkin when he retires in 2014. 

Latham, the 3rd District Congressman, who is best (or at least good) buddies with U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, would represent the “establishment” wing of the party. King, the 4th District Congressman, would give the voice to the Tea Party and social conservative wing of the party. King said his decision on whether to run won’t depend on what Latham does. Latham hasn’t talked for himself yet. But his spokesman said something similar to King…that Latham’s decision will be independent of any decisions made by any other Republican. Cue Tom Petty…”I won’t back down…”

Sure, it’s fun for the media to speculate about this battle. And why not? This would be the first contest with an open Iowa U.S. senate seat since 1974. Both men becoming candidates would risk a lot for their party. The party could end up losing both seats, probably more likely with Latham’s seat than King’s, since King’s seat is heavier Republican than Latham. No way Republicans would want to see that. I don’t think neither Latham nor King would want that either. 

But while all the speculation/hyperventilation focuses on these two men, let’s be honest, neither one may run. And that’s a real possibility. 

King–Can we win a statewide election? King himself told me that he didn’t know. King wins in his heavily Republican district and wins easily in previous elections. Just ask former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack. Her name and money connections failed to even make her 2012 race against King close. But campaigning outside of western Iowa is far different for King. King’s comments in the past make him a far more controversial candidate than Latham, who uses more measured words. Now, that, of course is what makes some conservatives revere King for telling it how he thinks it is. But King’s words also make him a constantly moving target for liberals. I’ve spoken with Republicans who say some early polling reflects that and calls into question whether King could actually win outside his district and carry the state.

In the end…it’s hard to see King risking his relatively safe congressional seat if polling shows he would be a long shot to win the senate seat against someone like likely Democratic candidate, 1st District Congressman Bruce Braley. 

Latham–He, too, has had comfortable elections over his career, despite moving around the state as redistricting changed the congressional boundaries. Latham has now represented the 3rd, 4th and 5th congressional districts. 

He barely broke a sweat in the final results as he easily beat back 3rd District Democratic Congressman Leonard Boswell in 2012. And that was supposed to be Latham’s most difficult challenge in years. Latham, unlike King, and despite this being his 10th term in congress, isn’t one for the headlines. You won’t likely see him on Fox News. For that matter, you don’t see much of him on the local news. He’s not one to sponsor many high-profile bills. His career has been largely based on a lack of controversy and calls for bipartisanship. 

Latham who will turn 65 this summer, is a year older than King. Many Republicans I talk with think he would be their party’s best chance to capture the senate seat. But does he at this point in his career want to mount the effort of a statewide campaign? Is it something his family would want him to do?

Again, no guarantees. And in the end, if he/his family lack the desire to do this, it’s hard to see him running, no matter what some Republicans may want to see. 

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe both men will decide to run. And that primary for the ages could still happen. Then, maybe that pay-per-view idea could work. Maybe we could use it to pay down the national debt. That might be something that could unite both parties. 


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