Iowa Republican Rep. Tom Latham said yesterday that he won’t run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, paving the way for one of liberals’ favorite villains to run for the seat: Rep. Steve King.
King hasn’t announced yet, but has said he’s leaning toward a run. It’s enough to concern Steve Law, the president of the Karl Rove-affiliated American Crossroads, which has made it its mission to help non-Tea Party Republicans win GOP primaries. "We're concerned about Steve King's Todd Akin problem," Law told the New York Times. "This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he's said are going to be hung around his neck."
It’s an understandable concern, and Democrats are giddy at the thought of King winning the nomination. A PPP poll from earlier this month explains why: King is the overwhelming favorite in a Republican primary, but trails every Democratic candidate they tested by at least 7 points. The most likely Democratic candidate at the moment, Bruce Braley, would start out 11 points ahead. But Latham was the only Republican who came anywhere near King, making it difficult for the Rove camp to find a another candidate.
King has been trying to clean up his act lately, coming out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, for example, and he could be more of a challenge than Democrats expect. He easily won reelection this year against a strong Democratic challenger, edging her by 7 percentage points (by comparison, Michele Bachmann won reelection with a narrow 1.2 percent margin).
But his 4th Congressional District is significantly more conservative than the state overall. Mitt Romney won King’s district by 8 points, but Obama won Iowa by almost 6 points, for a swing of 14 points.
And Democrats will have no qualms hanging the things he said around his neck, as Law warned, such as:
-- King is an ardent opponent of the “gay-rights agenda,” opposing the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell" and warning that if conservatives don’t “defend marriage,” “children will be raised in warehouses.” He’s also said that gay people should keep their sexuality secret.
Iowa legalized same-sex marriage in 2009 and a plurality of Iowans approve of the decision today.
-- On immigration, King has compared immigrants to dogs and joked (we hope) that a liberal should be deported for every new immigrant granted legal status. Democrats, he said, win over Latinos by giving them a “great big check.”
Fifty-eight percent of Iowans want a comprehensive immigration reform law with a pathway to citizenship.
By a 16 point margin, Iowa voters said Mitt Romney was “too conservative on issues involving women’s rights,” and King is several notches to the right of Romney.
-- King doesn’t like Obama, no surprise, but has ventured into pseudo-birtherism on occasion and called the president a Marxist who doesn’t “have an American experience” because he was not raised in the U.S., “Though he surely understands the Muslim culture."
Obama’s approval rating is around 50 percent in Iowa and the state has been famously friendly to the president, giving him a critical win in the 2008 Democratic primary and helping him win in 2012.
-- He’s also cool with dog fighting.
If King does run, and especially if he wins the nomination, Iowa will quickly become the must-watch race for liberals, much as Massachusetts' Senate campaign was last year with Elizabeth Warren. The race would also be sure to attract a ton of money and enthusiasm on both sides, with Tea Party and liberal activists pouring in from neighboring states to help either candidate.