So everybody’s favorite nativist, animal-rights opponent, and general all-around firebreather, U.S. Representative Steve King (R-IA), is officially taking a pass on trying to win the open seat of retiring U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. King was a lead-pipe cinch for the GOP nomination had he wanted it; his House colleague Tom Latham, Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and state Ag Commissioner Bill Northey, had all withdrawn from the potential field, presumably because they didn’t want to get in King’s way.

King’s decision, however, wasn’t really much of a surprise. He’s already a big-time national celebrity. He has a safe House seat (if the very well-funded and well-known Christie Vilsack couldn’t get more than 45% against him in a presidential year, no other Democrat is likely to be taken seriously in the near future). And if he wants to become a bigger deal in national politics, his best options are in the House, where he is nestled among many like-minded Tea types, and by involvement in the 2016 Iowa Caucuses, where his support could be crucial (he did not endorse a candidate in 2012).

But us political observers will miss the fun of a King Senate race, and the spectacle of all the 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls spending half their 2014 time in Iowa campaigning like rats in heat for the wacky dude and serving up a rich harvest of oppo research material for the Democratic Party. But it’s not like the eventual Senate nominee is likely to be some RINO squish.

According to The Iowa Republican‘s Craig Robinson, the “second tier” of potential Iowa GOP Senate candidates is headed by Secretary of State Matt Schultz, mainly known for his Voter ID advocacy and his 2012 endorsement of Rick Santorum. Another potential heavyweight is former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker, whose serial chairmanships of the 2012 campaigns of Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry may not seem like the best credentials, but did keep him in close touch with conservative activists. Meanwhile, Rep. Bruce Braley cleared the field on the Democratic side, and is busy raising money and setting up an organization while the Republicans try to get their act together.

But even as they try to find themselves some Senate candidates, Iowa Republicans are probably riveted this week by anticipation of Rand Paul’s speech to the state party’s annual fundraising dinner on Friday. His old man did well in Iowa in 2012, but the subsequent Paulite takeover of the state party has not gone over well with non-Paulites, so Rand will need to tread carefully.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.