The conventional wisdom is that Latham chose to avoid a bruising primary for Senate in order to concentrate on the congressional seat of IA 03, which Democrats might have won but now probably will not. The CW is probably right, but there are other ways of looking at this. Below the Sign of Orange Delight are some musings leading in another direction.
Latham's decision (which was wise if not politic) shows that Terry Branstad and the moderate, good governance, portions of the Iowa Republican party are much weaker than might have been supposed. Latham for Senate was the sign pointing to continued moderation; King for Senate is the sign pointing to intense radicalization of the Iowa Republican Party.
King is crazy, he is as vain as a turkey cock, and he gives out inflammatory sound bites like candy. He loves doing it, and he won't stop. He won't win because even in his home territory in western Iowa, there are too many people who can't stomach him, even if they agree with many of his positions. Those who don't agree oppose him wholeheartedly. We don't know why he did not get a good challenge from a Democrat until 2012 (I suspect a gentleman's agreement between Republicans and Democrats not to bother) but Christie Vilsack showed that he was far from invincible. He is not "Iowa Nice". In a state-wide election he has little chance to carry eastern Iowa where there are many more people, and many many more of them are Democrats already. His opponent, Bruce Braley, is a good progressive, and he is "Iowa Nice".
But, while he loses, King will be a show and a half. Iowa is store-front politics. He will offend real people to their faces, and in front of the local news cameras. He will smash the image of the decent Republican (Grassley's specialty), grinning gleefully while he does it. His supporters will write inflammatory, supportive letters to the editor, and when the numbers show he is losing, he and they will double down.
So he will lose. But Terry Branstad (or his surrogate and successor) must run for governor in 2014. This matters to him. The Tea Party wants to radicalize the Republican party. Every time King does something insane, Branstad will have to find a narrow path between repudiating him (political suicide) and embracing him (political suicide). If Democrats insist on making Branstad, as leader of the Iowa Republican Party, take responsibility for King, Brandstad will at best look weak, and at worst look desperate. Branstad has formidable political skills, but he has never been tested like this.
What does this mean for Latham? That Iowa is being radicalized in 2014 whether he wants it or not. If there's any sanity left in the party, they may try to leave him alone, but if the Democrats put up a decent candidate who keeps wondering how much Latham is like King, the pot will be very nicely stirred. If he tries to distance himself, Tea Partiers will rage. If he tries to join with King, moderates and even sane conservatives may stay home rather than cast a vote for a Republican who kowtows to King.
There is one factor that even Branstad, a consummate politician, may not have figured in. The Des Moines Register, for the entire twentieth century, was, in its journalism and its editorial opinions, the epitome of what it meant to be Iowan. The DMR is now owned by the Gannet company and, like the food Iowans eat, 90% of it is brought in from out of state. The DMR might back Branstad and Latham in 2014, but it is just another Gannet voice indistinguishable from all the others here and in other states. Branstad and Latham are on their own in a way moderate Republicans in Iowa have never known.
There is one factor that even Branstad, a consumate politician, may not have figured in. The Des Moines Register, for the entire twentieth century, was in its journalism and its editorial opinions, the epitome of what it meant to be Iowan. The DMR is now owned by the Gannet company and now, like the food Iowans eat, 90% of it is brought in from out of state. The DMR might back Branstad and Latham in 2014, but it is just another Gannet voice indistinguishable from all the others here and in other states. Branstad and Latham are on their own in a way moderate Republicans in Iowa have never known.
It it quite believable that the DMR will endorse King in 2014. It would cause a few moments' comment, but the corporate voice of a Gannet is lifeless, and its influence the influence of a public relations intern whistling for a mate.
Latham won against a good talented Democrat in 2012, but in a district that is not in fact as favorable to him as he needs. King will be THE story in 2014. If King is running for Senate, yes, Latham is electable, but only if Democrats—the party, the candidates, and all of us—allow it. King is our trump card in every district where there isn't a looney Republican running. We won't win all of them by far, but if King discourages ordinary Republicans in a non-Presidential-race year, we could take more than we expect.
This is also an open plea to Christie Vilsack to come back and run again in IA 04 in 2014. There are a lot of decent, honorable, loyal Iowans (Democrats, Independents and Republicans) who want to believe they matter enough for someone of decency to want to represent them.
PS My apologies. I have tried to add a link to Braley's opening salvo against King (who still has not declared that he will run, though if he doesn't, he'll have made a fool of Tom Latham), but my success is uncertain. I added tags, and those are even more uncertain. As this is my first complete diary, I will accept the limitations and work on these skills for my next effort.
PPS I wrote this last night. As of this morning, King is still not declaring. Branstad is an amazing politician. He may be able to brush King back yet. If so, it becomes an entirely different Senate race. The good people of IA 04 still deserve Christie Vilsack, and I hope she runs again.