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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - U.S. Rep. Tom Latham announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election in 2014, creating a potentially competitive race for a seat that likely would have favored the 10-term Iowa Republican.
Latham, 65, from Clive, will have spent 20 years in Congress and is Iowa's senior U.S. House member. His decision creates an open seat that includes the Des Moines area in central Iowa and the vast rural tracts of southern and western Iowa.
The news, coming late Tuesday, took Iowa's GOP senior strategists by surprise.
"It's a bombshell politically in Iowa because he was so strong," said Doug Gross, a longtime aide to Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and former nominee for governor. "It throws open a congressional seat in a very, very important district I think you'll have a scrum on both sides. I think you'll have lots of interest."
Latham was one of three veteran House members who on Tuesday announced plans to retire. Reps. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Jim Matheson, D-Utah, also announced they would not seek re-election in 2014.
Democrat Staci Appel, a former state senator from Ackworth, had already announced her plans to seek the seat before Latham's decision.
Latham's decision could invite other Democrats into the race, Iowa strategists said, though Appel, a former three-term state senator, has been raising money for months and could deter others.
Regardless, based on its political balance, it is expected to be among both parties' top targets.
In December, registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats in a district of almost 483,000 by about 7,000 and independents by about 4,000.
But President Barack Obama carried the district by four percentage points, in carrying the state last year.
"I think there will be people looking at it, but when they get close it could be tough to pull the trigger," said Jeff Link, a longtime aide to Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. "I think this will be one of the top targeted races in the country."
Latham was heavily courted this year by Iowa Republicans, especially Branstad, and the national GOP to seek Iowa's open Senate seat in 2014, but he turned that down in February. The five-term Harkin announced in January that he would retire, and several Republicans have announced their candidacies.
Latham is a member of the Appropriations Committee and chairman of the transportation subcommittee. He's also known for his friendship with House Speaker John Boehner and his love of golf.