Normally, when a representative decides not to run for the Senate, thus avoiding a bloody primary, it is good news for his party. Not in the case of Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA), who has announced he will not run for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). As a consequence, it is likely that Rep. Steve King (R-IA), will have a clear shot at the GOP Senate nomination to replace Harkin. The Democratic nominee will probably be Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA).
What is important here is the backstory. King is a firebrand conservative. He has a long history of inserting his foot into his mouth, often with great force. While the candidacies of Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin were sunk by a single inappropriate remark, King has scores of them. For example, on the always-tricky subject of rape, he once said "I've never heard of a girl getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest." Perhaps King needs a hearing aid as such pregnancies are well documented.
The fact that Latham, a moderate, is now out of the race, means that King is the likely GOP Senate nominee, unless Karl Rove's Conservative Victory Project can find and fund an alternative candidate. King's candidacy could easily be a repeat of those of Akin, Mourdock, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and others, where an extreme right-wing candidate, backed by the tea party, won a Senate nomination, only to be crushed by a weak Democrat in the general election. The handwriting is on the wall again, and it will be interesting to see what Rove does. He set up the Conservative Victory Project specifically to defeat Republican candidates like King and have the GOP nominee be the most conservative candidate who can actually win the general election. Of course, any attempt by Rove to meddle in the primary will set off a civil war between the tea party and mainstream Republicans, who would rather win than lose with honor.
Early polling shows Braley with a double digit lead over King, and that is likely to increase as Iowa voters become more familiar with the two candidates, and especially King's views on rape. Iowa is next door to Missouri and many Iowa voters are quite familiar with the Todd Akin fiasco last year.
This race is enormously important for control of the Senate in 2014. Currently, Democrats and independends aligned with them hold 55 seats in the Senate, so the Republicans need six seats to take over the chamber. With incumbent Democrats facing uphill climbs in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Dakota, Iowa could be crucial. If Republicans can win all five of those seats and avoid any losses, the Senate would be split exactly 50-50. Iowa would be the race that put the Republicans over the top, although West Virginia is also a possibility, depending who the Democratic nominee to replace the retiring Jay Rockefeller is. A 50-50 split in the Senate would give Vice President Joe Biden something to do all day, not to mention a platform for casting dramatic tie-breaking votes all the time, and reaping publicity that would be invaluable should he decide to run for President in 2016, an event considered likely if Hillary Clinton decides not to run.
To summarize, Latham's decision not to run greatly increases the chances of (1) Steve King being the Republican Senate nominee in Iowa and (2) a civil war in the Republican Party. It also greatly increases the chances that the Democrats will keep control of the Senate in 2015, albeit by the narrowest of margins. DSCC chairman Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) should send Latham a large bouquet of flowers and a note thanking him for his service to his country.