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Locals discuss new U.S. Senate opportunities after Harkin retirement announcement

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | JANUARY 28, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa is known for national attention in politics from the first-in-the-nation caucuses to its position as a swing state. But after Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s decision not to seek re-election, Iowa will have an open Senate race for the first time since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

“There are people who go to D.C and vote, and there are people go to D.C. and are champions,” said Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, the  newly elected chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. “Sen. Harkin was a champion of Iowa and progressive issues from the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Affordable Care Act, and he showed that you can stand on principles and reach across the aisle to get the job done.”

Harkin said it was “time to give someone else a turn,” citing his age and his desire to spend more time with wife Ruth as reasons not to seek re-election.

“… I am going to make way for someone new in this Senate seat,” he said in a statement. “I think that is right not just for me but for Iowa, as well.”

Harkin’s decision, announced Jan. 26, gives Iowa Republicans another possibility for the first time since Reagan: sending two Republican senators to Washington — something not lost on Olson and other Democrats.

Iowa hasn’t sent two Democratic senators since the days of the Ford administration, when Dick Clark and John Culver, the father of former Gov. Chet Culver, represented Iowa.

“I appreciate that Sen. Harkin has made this decision so early in the cycle, giving us ample time to recruit a strong Democratic candidate for this seat,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Speculation now surrounds a variety of candidates on both sides, but focus from Democrats has been on current Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, representing the 1st Congressional District. He responded with a noncommittal statement on Jan. 26 before saying he would consider running Sunday morning.

“Over the past 24 hours, I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of encouragement and support from Iowans in every corner of the state urging me to consider a campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014,” he said in a statement. “While Sen. Harkin’s shoes are impossible to fill, over the coming days, my family and I will carefully weigh a possible candidacy for Senate.”

University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle said the Republicans’ chances of retaking control of the Senate are “kind of a long shot,” but it will depend on who wins the nomination.

Hagle believes another current Iowa congressman may face some difficulties running a statewide campaign.

“[Rep.] Steve King is a good fit in the 4th District, but he may have a very difficult time, particularly in the eastern part of the state … and appealing to a large group of independents,” he said.

Beyond political opportunities, Iowa’s open Senate seat allows for the possibility to send a woman to Washington. Iowa — along with only Delaware, Mississippi, and Vermont — has never sent a woman to Congress.

“We hope something will come now,” said Maggie Tinsman, a former state Republican senator from Davenport and current co-head of 50-50 in 2020 a bipartisan program that promotes more women representing Iowa in the legislature and Congress. “If we really are going to change the tenor of the U.S. Senate, then we need to have some women who are problem solvers and also work across the aisle — that’s what works.”

Hagle said Harkin’s work on the Americans with Disabilities Act was “the big one.” Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, pointed to this along with his work for Iowa farmers as Harkin’s legacy.

“Sen. Harkin has had a direct impact on the everyday lives of people all across the nation and the globe, not just in Iowa,” Loebsack said in a statement. “From his advocacy to improving the lives of people with disabilities to rewriting the way farmers conserve and protect their land to standing up for human rights, he has been a true leader and statesman.”


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