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Why Steve King -- and Iowa Dems -- are smiling today

Well, this comes as quite a surprise, which will have a significant impact beyond Iowa.

Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) won't run for the Senate, a decision that could hurt Republican chances of picking up the state's open seat.

"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," he said in a statement emailed to supporters Wednesday afternoon.

"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 those who haven't been watching this race closely, with incumbent Sen. Tom Harkin (D) retiring, Republicans are looking at Iowa as a key 2014 pick-up opportunity. But a GOP primary was likely to be the focal point of a major intra-party conflict, with the party's extremist base rallying behind Rep. Steve King, and the party establishment supporting Rep. Tom Latham.

The extended party was already gearing up for the ugly fight, with Karl Rove's machine making clear that King is unelectable and therefore unacceptable, while activist groups and Tea Partiers deemed Latham an overly moderate insider.

Polls showed Latham struggling with the far-right, but leading statewide, while King enjoys GOP support but struggles with the mainstream. It was going to be a battle royale for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

That is, until today, when Latham decided to skip the race.

Steve King, as nutty and radical as he is, now appears to be the clear favorite to be his party's U.S. Senate nominee next year. He will likely face Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who already enjoys strong support from his party, and who has early leads over King in a general election.

And that's why King isn't the only one smiling today -- Democrats are, too. For Dems, there's already a long list of candidates the Republican base loved but who couldn't win statewide -- the list includes names like Todd Akin, Richard Moudock, Christine O'Donnell, Ken Buck, and Sharon Angle -- and they have reason to believe King will add his name to that list next November.