LAS VEGAS -- Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad thinks Republican Rep. Tom Latham would make a better statewide candidate than Rep. Steve King, he said in an interview here Thursday, echoing private sentiments of most state and national Republican strategists.
There's no guarantee either man will run for the seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. Harkin is near the top of the list of Democratic incumbents rumored to be eyeing retirement in 2014, but Branstad isn't counting on it.
"There are some things that tell me maybe he wants to retire. But Tom Harkin's been a very successful person," Branstad said. "I met with him recently and he's as sharp as ever. It'll be a little tougher. This time he'll have to run in an off year, not a presidential year. But he's a resilient guy and he's been elected to the United States Senate time and time again."
Harkin, 72, has made a career out of defeating Republican congressmen. He knocked off an incumbent senator in 1984 to win his seat, then bested Reps. Tom Tauke, Jim Lightfoot and Greg Ganske in subsequent re-election bids.
King, a strident conservative known for his hard line on immigration, has left the door open to running for Senate. But Branstad isn't optimistic on his chances.
"I think Steve King, I just don't think he can do it in Eastern Iowa. He's a great friend of mine, he's a good guy, he's a good congressman, and if he focuses on his district, he can represent that as long as he wants. But in terms of him winning statewide, I think that would be a tough uphill climb," Branstad said.
"Latham, on the other hand, if he were to want to run, look at this: He's represented northeast, north central, northwest and now southwest and Des Moines. There's only one quarter of the state he's not represented, and he's been the best vote-getter we've ever had," he went on. "If Tom Latham wanted to run for the Senate, he'd be a very formidable candidate. I'm not sure that he's interested in it."
We bet the National Republican Senatorial Committee agrees.