Political experts predict competitive race for Senate - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Political experts predict competitive race for Sen. Harkin's Senate seat in 2014


Senator Tom Harkin's move opens up a rare Senate seat in Iowa, and it has both Democrats and Republicans already speculating who will fill it.

Harkin announced Saturday he will not be seeking re-election. By the time he finishes his 5th term he will have represented Iowa for 40-years.

In a statement Harkin said because he's getting older, he thought the time was right to step down and spend more time with his wife, Ruth.

"After 40 years, I just feel it's somebody else's turn," he said. "I can't put into words what an honor it is to serve Iowa. And I don't by any means plan to retire completely from public life at the end of this Congress. But I am going to make way for someone new in this Senate seat.  I think that is right not just for me, but for Iowa, as well."

The end of his current term will make Harkin the longest serving Democratic Senator from Iowa in U.S. history.

Harkin grew up in Cumming, Iowa, and began his time in D.C. in 1974 as a congressman. In 1984, he won election to the Senate.

In 1990, Harkin led the way for the passage of arguably his most notable legislative achievement, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He also helped implement the Affordable Care Act.

Even Harkin's Republican counterpart, Senator Charles Grassley, said Iowans should be proud of Harkin's accomplishments.

In a phone conversation, Grassley told KWWL's Shelley Russell, "He and I have put Iowa first and our partisanships different, and it's never been a problem and Iowa's benefited from that cooperation."

Grassley said he is focused on working and participating in "usual political activity." He said retirement is not something he will consider for at least another two years. Grassley has four years left of his term.

He said Harkin's retirement is a loss for Iowa but added, "He has a right to retire and we should let him."

Grassley said Harkin called him Saturday to personally inform him of his decision to retire.

"Senator Harkin and I have rarely agreed on issues or voted the same, but he and I have gotten along for a long time with open lines of communication, and I appreciate his public service and zeal for Iowa interests," Grassley wrote in a statement.

Meanwhile, political analysts are expecting the race to Harkin's Senate seat to be a competitive one.

Chris Larimer is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Northern Iowa.

Larimer said most Democrats will likely view Harkin's retirement as a loss, "and Republicans will view it as a loss in the sense that it's a loss of clout and power in the U.S. Senate and for the state of Iowa."

"But for Republicans, it's also very much an opportunity," he said.

Larimer said he anticipates a "ripple effect" from Harkin's retirement. He said the race for Senate could get complicated.

"If we fast-forward a little bit to 2014, and if Branstad decides not to run, you potentially have two of the longest serving elected officials in Iowa no longer involved in politics," he said.

Larimer also said it could get competitive and expensive, especially if congressman Bruce Braley decides to run for Senate.

"Should he decide to do that, that opens up the first congressional district as a wide open race, and we know that was fairly competitive in the past," he said.

Larimer said candidates will likely wait a few months before announcing interest in Harkin's Senate seat.

More of Larimer's analysis can be found here.

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