Harkin says farewell


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INDIANOLA, Iowa — In an open field strewn with folding chairs and hay barrels, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said goodbye to his fellow Democrats at the 37th and final Harkin Steak Fry in the warm company of an estimated 10,000 supporters.

A humble and appreciative Harkin took the stage at the National Balloon Classic Balloon Field in Indianola to thank all who supported him over the years.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants — you — my fellow Democrats and my fellow Iowans,” he said. “You trusted me. You worked your hearts out for me.”

Harkin’s departure signals a turn for the Democratic and, for many, a need to keep a Democrat in his U.S. Senate seat. The event served primarily as a farewell party for the retiring senator, but also as a platform for hopeful Democratic candidates this November.

“With the right people in office and the right hearts and a wiliness to work, our government can do good things for people in this country,” he said.  

This year’s keynote speakers were former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rodham Clinton’s appearance at the fry was her first visit to Iowa since her third-place finish at the 2008 Iowa caucuses.

Both Clintons praised Harkin for his 40-year-long career in Congress and his some of his most notable accomplishments such as working to pass the American Disabilities Act.

“I’m here more than anything else because the shining life of Tom Harkin … proves that politics can be a noble profession,” Bill Clinton said.

The fundraiser also featured speeches from several of the candidates on this year’s Democratic ticket stumping for their own campaigns, including Rep. Bruce Braley, Rep. Dave Loebsack, and gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch.

Much emphasis was placed on encouraging those in attendance to vote and volunteer for campaigns.

“At the end of the day, elections are about the kind of future you want for yourself and you want for Iowa,” Braley said.  

Common themes touched on by speakers included the need to raise the minimum wage, protecting safety-net programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and supporting the middle class.

“It’s not about middle class. It’s about fairness and it’s about what America stands for,” said Pat Murphy, the Democratic candidate in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District.

Amid the masses of voters at the fry, many said they were there to honor Harkin.

“Tom Harkin is my super hero,” Lauren Lange of Adel said.

Krys Lange, Laura Lange’s mother, explained that while her daughter was teaching English in Mexico, she became seriously ill and Harkin intervened and made sure she got back to Iowa.

“Tom Harkin saved her life,” she said.

Others also looked forward to seeing Rodham Clinton. Leading up to Sunday speculation swirled that the she was kicking off her presidential aspirations. Some in the crowd admitted their hopes of a candidacy announcement.

Jan Burleson, a former Fort Dodge city  councilor, said she has been attending the Steak Fry for the past 15 years.

Burleson, who was the first woman and first person of color elected to the Fort Dodge council, she said she hopes to see Rodham Clinton become the first female president.

“There have always been white men in that position, and there’s never been a person of color in that position until Obama, and it’s time for a woman,” she said.

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