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Iowa Republican passes on Senate bid, clearing way for conservative Steve King

Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) released a letter on Wednesday signaling that he would not run for Iowa's open Senate seat in 2014, which was vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA).

"The opportunity to serve Iowa in the U.S. Senate is appealing to this farm kid who grew up here, raised a family here, and helped grow a family business in Iowa. I love Iowa," Latham wrote.

"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."

With Latham not running, that would potentially give fellow Iowa Congressman Steve King a clear shot to win the GOP nomination, if he decides to mount a Senate bid.

Several weeks ago, the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads operation said it was creating an additional outside group -- called the Conservative Victory Project -- in an effort to help the GOP nominate more electable Senate candidates.

One of the chief examples the organization cited: making sure the conservative King didn't become Iowa's GOP Senate nominee.

"We're concerned about Steve King's Todd Akin problem," Steve Law, president of American Crossroads, 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."

King is known for his right-wing positions and statements, and Latham's decision potentially increases the chances for Democrats to hold the Senate seat. However, King last year won a competitive House contest against Christie Vilsack, wife of Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.

It's also possible that other Republicans might decide to run for the vacated Senate seat. One name that has surfaced: Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

“Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is very serious about running,” an Iowa source tells NBC News.