Conservative leader Vander Platts turns down Iowa Senate run

Bob Vander Platts, Iowa’s leading religious conservative and a former gubernatorial candidate, won’t be running for the Senate this year.

The decision from the leader of the powerful social conservative organization The Family Leader ends weeks of speculation about his plans for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

In an interview with The Des Moines Register published on Saturday, Vander Plaats said that he will focus on his book and a broader religious message instead of running for the Senate.

“That’s my sweet spot right now,” he told the newspaper.

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He added that he “came very, very close” to seeking the Senate seat and had “a great campaign team in the wings” had he chosen to run for office.

Vander Plaats had toyed with a run for weeks, and told The Hill last month that his deadline for a decision would be Saturday. 

He is an influential evangelical Christian in Iowa and helped to launch the presidential prospects of former Arkansas Gov Mike Huckabee (R) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), both of whom won the state’s last two presidential caucuses. He also ran for governor in 2010 but lost in the primary to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R).

Democrats hoped that Vander Plaats would run and repeat the experience of Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who rose to national attention in the 2012 Senate race in Missouri with controversial remarks about “legitimate rape.”

National Republicans had worried that he would coast through the state’s June primary but could lose the general election to the Democrat in the race, Rep. Bruce Braley (Iowa).

A handful of less prominent Republicans are still in the running to challenge Braley, including state Sen. Joni Ernst, retired utilities company chief executive Mark Jacobs, former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker and conservative talk-show host Sam Clovis.

Vander Plaats did not endorse any other Republicans for the seat.

“No one has broken out of the pack yet,” he told the Register. “I will encourage all God-honoring candidates in this race … but I’m not feeling a strong urging to do an endorsement.”

Vander Plaats’s book, “If 7:14,” is based on a passage from the Bible that promises salvation if people pray and reject sin.