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Latham for Senate?

Rep. Tom Latham's (R-Iowa) decision to relocate from rural northern Iowa to Ames last week raised eyebrows among those of us watching the 2008 Senate playing field closely.

Latham insisted the move had nothing to do with a possible challenge to Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) but he refused to rule out such a run. Latham said the move was designed to make his trips back and forth to Washington easier (he flies in and out of Des Moines) and to bring him and his wife closer to their grandchildren.

The Iowa Democratic Party disagreed -- or at least wanted to take a shot at Latham for free. "We find it disheartenening that Tom Latham is abandoning his rural roots for his own convenience," said Iowa state Democratic party communications director Carrie Giddins in a release.

Latham is seen by national Republicans as their strongest potential candidate against Harkin. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) said that Latham "looks like a senator" and would have "broad-based statewide appeal."

Why would Latham leave a safe House seat to run for Senate?

First, he finds himself in the House minority for the first time since coming to Congress in 1994. While Republicans are in the minority in the Senate as well, an individual Senator -- even in the minority -- has far more influence than a single House member in the minority.

Second, he has watched as two of his three closest friends in Congress --Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Richard Burr (N.C.) -- have moved from the House to the Senate in the past few cycles. Latham's other bosom buddy is House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

Even so, most neutral observers don't expect Latham to run. He has done little in the way of fundraising -- $215,000 on hand at the end of March -- and his chief of staff recently took a job on the west coast. Latham did not return a call seeking comment on his interest in a Senate race.

And, Harkin is no easy nut to crack. While he has never won re-election with more than 55 percent of the vote, he has also put down a number of highly touted Republicans in that time including former Reps. Jim Ross Lightfoot, Tom Tauke and Greg Ganske. (If Latham did decide to run, it would mark the fourth consecutive election that Harkin has faced a sitting House member.) Harkin is bracing for another battle in 2008, closing March with $1.9 million on hand.

As we've said before, Republicans must find a few Democratic seats in which to play offense if they hope to minimize their losses in the 2008 cycle. Iowa, Montana, South Dakota and Louisiana seem to be the party's best chances to take away Democratic-held seats.

Candidates have yet to emerge in any of these seats but Ensign insists he is not worried, noting that he didn't announce against Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) until November 1997 and came within 426 votes of ousting the incumbent.

Ensign did, however, acknowledge the difficulties inherent in the recruitment process. "It's more challenging than even fundraising is," said Ensign. "Fundraising is more a function of time where recruitment is, one, trying to inspire and, two, identifying the right person and then putting all the pieces together."

Keep an eye out for the latest Fix rankings of the 2008 playing field in this Friday's Line. Click here to see the last Senate Line.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 11, 2007; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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