DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa Congressman Tom Latham, who had been considered the establishment Republican choice for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated next year by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin, announced Wednesday that he won't seek the job.
Latham, a 10-term Republican from Clive, said in a statement that he could not "in good conscience launch a two-year statewide campaign that will detract from the commitment" to the new district he was elected to in November.
He faced considerable pressure to run from throughout the Iowa Republican establishment, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. Latham, a soft-spoken former businessman, had represented more than half of Iowa's counties during nearly 20 years in Congress and was considered a good fundraising match for Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley.
Attention now turns to U.S. Rep. Steve King, an outspoken conservative who has said he is weighing a Senate bid but was not expected to challenge Latham in a primary. King said Wednesday in a statement: "It is too big a decision to be rushed."
King gave no timeline for a decision. "A potential Senate race remains an analytic decision first and then one that requires deep conviction," he said.
Democrats would have been expected to hold the seat before Harkin, 73, opted last month not to seek a sixth term. Republicans, who need to gain six seats in 2014 to win the Senate majority, immediately claimed to have a real shot at the seat.
But in the month since Harkin made his announcement, Democrats have coalesced around Braley, a four-term congressman from Waterloo. He is the only Democrat to announce his candidacy for the seat.
Trying to foster an organized process for Republicans, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad had urged Latham this month during a private meeting at the governor's mansion in Des Moines to seek the nomination. Branstad, who also met with King privately, said he urged King to develop more of a statewide network and consider running in 2016, should Republican Sen. Charles Grassley decide against running for a sixth term.
A national group started by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove had identified King as a potential target of attack ads in its mission to field candidates more acceptable to general election audiences after GOP Senate candidates lost in races seen as within their reach in 2010 and 2012.
Branstad, who is expected to seek re-election next year, hopes to field a strong GOP ticket and avoid a potentially nasty Senate primary that could dishearten portions of the GOP coalition.
He also is urging Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, a loyal Branstad protege, to consider seeking the GOP Senate nomination.
"I know the respect and support she has throughout Iowa," Branstad said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. "I have been greatly impressed with the work she has done here in the lieutenant governor's office and would urge her to explore a run."
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