Updated 3:23 p.m. | Rep. Steve King declared late on May 3 that he will not run for Senate in 2014, setting off rampant speculation in the Hawkeye State about who the GOP could run for retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's seat.
The conservative congressman marks one of several top Iowa Republicans to recently decide against a run, but a handful of lesser-known, potential GOP Senate candidates are still eyeing this open seat.
Secretary of State Matt Schultz and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker have already begun making the preparations necessary to run, according to a senior Republican operative in Iowa. That includes looking for potential campaign staff and consultants.
Meanwhile, David Young, the chief of staff to Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, has reached out to influential Iowa Republicans about the race. Former state Rep. Rod Roberts is also looking at the race, according to the Des Moines Register.
And on Monday, state Sen. Joni Ernst received a strong public hint of support from the governor’s office. Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has already opted against running, told reporters that she has encouraged Ernst to run. The National Republican Senatorial Committee noted the move on Twitter, but it has remained publicly neutral on the race.
[field name = iframe]
Ambitious Republicans and the conservative grass roots alike waited months for a decision from King, a conservative stalwart who would have been a formidable force in the primary and a lightning rod in the general election.
But after anemic first-quarter fundraising — at least by Senate race standards — King finally took his name out of the running. By then, the only surprise was his timing. King had played coy for months about when he would make the decision, and some Republicans believed he could wait until June to make an announcement.
But pressure mounted quickly for King to make a decision. Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley turned in a $1 million first quarter and, with a cleared primary field, has the luxury of socking away funds for next year.
The list of Republicans who have announced they will not run includes Reynolds, Gov. Terry E. Branstad, Rep. Tom Latham and state Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey.
If he runs, Schultz will likely have the support of evangelicals and social conservatives. GOP sources indicated his challenge will be to broaden his support and not be seen as filling King’s lane in the race. Whitaker and Ernst would have some name recognition work to do, as would Young.
The primary field may not stop there; a few potential candidates in the private sector are sniffing around the race as well.
“It is fair to say that there is not universal satisfaction with the options as currently presented,” the senior Iowa Republican operative said.