02/27/2013 04:24 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2013

Steve King Gains Inside Track On Iowa Senate Nomination As Tom Latham Balks At Run

Karl Rove may have wanted to make Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) a test case for his "Conservative Victory Project" -- dedicated to tamping down future Todd Akin-style dingbat eruptions by throwing money at Republican candidates deemed "electable" -- but his cause has now hit a snag. Rep. Tom Latham, the more even-keeled Republican representative of Iowa's 3rd District, is declining to put his hat in the ring to replace retiring Republican Sen. Tom Harkin, thus denying Rove a potential "victor" for his "victory project."

Latham broke the news in an email to supporters, telling them that while he found the "opportunity to serve in the Senate" to be "appealing," the prospect of campaigning so hard on the heels of his last endeavor was anything but. Via The Des Moines Register:

"However, only 56 days ago I took an oath to 'faithfully discharge the duties' of an office with which the people of Iowa's Third Congressional District entrusted to me. I cannot in good conscience launch a two-year statewide campaign that will detract from the commitment I made to the people who elected me, at a time when our nation desperately needs less campaigning and more leadership."

For Rove, this really damages any hope of preventing the nomination of King, the man he specifically named as a target for his efforts. An early February poll conducted by Wenzel Strategies found that Latham was the only Republican candidate in the ballpark with King -- prospective poll numbers for Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and state Sen. Brad Zaun put them, to varying degrees, in the "long shot" category. (The same was true for one-time Iowa gubernatorial aspirant and conservative Christian kingmaker Bob Vander Plaats, who would have been of no use to Rove, anyway.)

The good news for Democrats is that they now will likely get the candidate they want to face, and you can expect them to take whatever opportunities are available to turn King into the next Todd Akin (they start with a wealth of material). The Democrats' most likely contender, Bruce Braley, actually polled worse against Latham than he did against King, despite the fact that King's been the de facto frontrunner from the start.

Indeed, Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, was very quick on the draw following Latham's email, with a statement of his own:

This is yet another potential candidate in a long line of Republicans who have decided not to face down the extremist elements within their own party. Regardless of who runs on the Republican ticket, we are focused on supporting our great Democratic candidate, Bruce Braley. Bruce has repeatedly proven himself to be a fighter for middle class families and someone who will always put Iowa first.

The Register's Jennifer Jacobs, however, reads the tea leaves a bit differently, suggesting that Latham's wording -- "I cannot in good conscience launch a two-year statewide campaign" -- means that he is leaving "the door open a crack." She writes: "Asked if the congressman could, say, wait to announce a candidacy a year from now, Latham Chief of Staff James Carstensen said the 'statement speaks for itself -- that’s all I can give you.'"

CORRECTION: This post has been updated from the original, because I accidentally confused Rove's Conservative Victory Project with the Conservative Victory Fund. I regret the error. My apologies to the Conservative Victory Fund, who are not in any way connected with Rove or his recent effort.

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