Terrible news for Iowa Democrats: Senator Tom Harkin told Tom Beaumont of the Associated Press that he will retire rather than seek re-election in 2014. Not only will there be an open seat at the top of the ticket, the Iowa Democratic Party won’t be able to count on Harkin’s millions to fund a decent coordinated GOTV campaign in a midterm election year. Even if Democrats manage to win that statewide race while Governor Terry Branstad’s also on the ballot, we will lose an Iowan in charge of a powerful Senate committee. Incoming Iowa Democratic Party Chair Tyler Olson has a difficult road ahead.
Representative Bruce Braley is likely to run for Harkin’s seat, and unless either Tom or Christie Vilsack is interested, the primary would probably be uncontested. The silver lining here is a chance to elect a woman to Congress in IA-01. Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum would be my first choice, but there are many capable Democratic women in those 20 counties.
An excerpt from Braley’s appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” this weekend is after the jump. I’ll post further updates there. UPDATE: Much more is below, including the statement from Harkin’s office.
Braley taped this show before Harkin’s public announcement.
Henderson: Congressman, let’s address the speculation head on. Are you running for governor?
Braley: I can tell you with absolute certainty that the average Iowa voter is not thinking anything about the 2014 elections. They’re thinking about whether or not the people they have elected to serve them now are doing their jobs. That is what I’m spending my time focusing on. […]
Lynch: A couple of weeks ago Senator Grassley was a guest on this show and he indicated to us that he expects Senator Harkin to run for re-election in 2016. Has Senator Harkin confided his plans in you? And do they have any bearing on your 2014 plans?
Braley: Well, Senator Harkin is a good friend of mine but he has not told me anything about what his plans are for 2014. He certainly is doing everything that it appears he would have to do to run for re-election. But I’m just like every other Iowa voter waiting to see what happens.
Henderson: How frustrating is it to be a member of Congress and be in the minority? I remember when Fred Grandy ran for governor in 1994 he relished the idea of being an executive who could actually do things.
Braley: Well, I can tell you one of the most frequent questions I get, Kay, is are you still enjoying your job and are you having fun? And I always answer yes to both of those questions because you shouldn’t be doing this job unless you can answer both of those questions yes. I’m very proud of the fact that even though I served in the minority last term I was able to reach across the aisle, work with republicans and pass legislation that actually got signed into law by the President. That is not a very common thing for people serving in the minority and yet I think it is a reflection of the work that I put in to develop strong relations with people on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers so that I can try to get things done for the people that I represent.
Borg: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask this question and I know that you’re not really trying to look into the future as far as running for something else. But last week as I was signing off this program and telling people, our viewers, that you were going to be our guest this week, Governor Branstad was sitting in that seat. He was our guest last week. And he said, as he heard you were going to be the guest he said, well ask him the next time that you have him, ask him what was the last time that a congressman was elected governor of Iowa. Does something like that go into your psyche when you are considering whether or not you might run for governor, whether or not being a congressman is a good jumping off place?
Braley: Well, it’s kind of interesting that he would ask you to ask me that question, Dean. But I can tell you that I had breakfast the day after the inauguration with my good friend Governor Jay Inslee of the state of Washington who served in Congress with me, ran for governor and was elected. I also know that Mike Pence, a republican congressman from Indiana, just got sworn in as Governor of Indiana and my friend Mary Fallin, who came in with my class in 2006, is now the Governor of Oklahoma. So are people in Iowa so different from the people in those three states that they would never consider someone who had served in Congress as a governor? I don’t think so. I think for every elected position people evaluate you based on what you have done with your life, what you can do for them to make their lives better and then they decide among candidates who they want to vote for.
UPDATE: Chuck Todd of NBC commented on twitter, “Bottom line: Iowa Sen issue is same whether Harkin runs or not. All about whether IA GOP can dodge King candidacy.”
For the record, I think Steve King is smart enough to know that he could never win any statewide race for any Iowa office. But if he is dumb enough to run for U.S. Senate, that would be a huge gift to Iowa Democrats as well as an opportunity to elect someone less embarrassing to represent IA-04.
SECOND UPDATE: John Deeth is already calling IA-01 for Liz Mathis. She’s not nearly as well-known outside the Cedar Rapids area, although she is telegenic, and the district does lean Democratic, even in a midterm year.
Keep in mind that Jochum’s Iowa Senate district in Dubuque would easily elect a Democrat to replace her. In contrast, Senate district 34 (suburban areas in Linn County) would be a tough hold without Mathis. So Democrats could lose the Iowa Senate majority if Mathis runs for Congress.
WHO-TV’s Dave Price: “So much for all signs pointing to @SenatorHarkin running again. Big $ in bank. Fundraiser nxt month with Lady Gaga. Good poker face.”
THIRD UPDATE: Bad form by the Des Moines Register and Jennifer Jacobs, reporting on Harkin’s retirement without giving Beaumont (formerly of the Register) credit for this scoop: “Tom Harkin, Iowa’s powerful Democratic U.S. senator, won’t seek re-election in two years, he told The Des Moines Register this morning.”
FOURTH UPDATE: You have to wonder whether the Senate Democratic cave on filibuster reform affected Harkin’s decision on another six years. He would have been re-elected easily.
The National Journal is speculating that Tom Latham may run for the Senate seat. I’m not convinced he would give up an almost sure thing in IA-03 for a statewide race he could lose.
Apparently Latham released a statement this morning saying he “respects” Harkin’s choice as “looks forward to continuing to working with him” during the next two years. I would post the statement here, but it’s not on Latham’s website, and his press secretary has refused my multiple requests to be added to their media distribution list. (Ooooh, scary liberal blogger!)
FIFTH UPDATE: Branstad should probably stay neutral in the U.S. Senate primary, given the way Republicans have rejected his preferred candidates in several races (Senate district 6, Senate district 36, most recently House district 52). But the governor has expressed concerns about King’s electability statewide, so he may not be able to keep quiet if Republicans are poised to nominate someone way out there for the Senate race.
SIXTH UPDATE: I think King knows better than to run in a statewide race, but can you imagine how much national Republican strategists are hyperventilating about the prospect of him getting an even bigger megaphone? Here’s King talking to Radio Iowa a few days ago:
“The people that are for some version of let me say ‘waiving immigration law’…they have always been that way and now they are political opportunists,” King says. “For me, I’ve taken the oath to uphold the constitution and that includes the rule of law and I don’t want to reward people for breaking the law.” […]
“In the center this, the American people want the rule of law respected and if you reward lawbreakers, you’re going to get more lawbreakers,” King says. “That’s just how it is and we learned that from the 1986 Amnesty Act that was signed by Ronald Reagan, one of only about two times that he let me down.”
King says Republicans can “moderate” their tone when talking about minorities, including Latinos, but King says the GOP should “reject identity politics.”
“We can’t compromise principle for political expediency,” King says.
Public Policy Polling noted that in its last Iowa poll, Steve King’s statewide favorable/unfavorable numbers were 29/34: “But Republicans (57/8) like him more than Tom Latham (36/13).’”
SEVENTH UPDATE: Iowa Democratic Party officials kicked The Iowa Republican blogger Jeff Patch out of their meeting this morning after the news broke:
Party officials heard the news just before the start of the party’s State Central Committee meeting Sat. morning. Michael Hunt, the party’s communications director, kicked this reporter out of the meeting just after the news broke. Hunt said party officials decided TheIowaRepublican.com was not a legitimate news outlet even though they agreed days in advance to let a reporter attend, outgoing chairwoman Sue Dvorsky and incoming chairman Tyler Olson welcomed the reporter, and staffers offered this journalist coffee and the building’s Wi-Fi access code.
At around 9:30 a.m. when the story hit the Associated Press wire, Des Moines Register political reporter Jennifer Jacobs jumped up out of her chair and raced out of the room to take a phone call. Harkin told the Register that he decided against running for reelection Wednesday. “I’m going to learn to dance,” he said.
Hunt sheepishly informed this reporter that he had to leave while panicked Democrats wondered aloud what was happening. No other reporters attended the meeting, which Democrats had said would likely be a boring, pro forma session.
EIGHTH UPDATE: Harkin’s office issue this press release today (emphasis in original).
CUMMING, Iowa – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement on his plans for the future, including his decision not to seek reelection for his U.S. Senate term expiring in 2014. In doing so, he thanked Iowans for their dedication over the course of his career in public service and outlined his agenda for the HELP Committee over the next two years:
“I have been thinking hard about the decision whether to run for a sixth term in the United States Senate for a number of months – even more these last few weeks. I’ve reached a decision, and what I’ve decided really boils down to two things,” said Harkin. “First, I’m going to fulfill a promise that I made to my wife Ruth, and that I also made to myself. It’s a promise that we’re going to do certain things together – and that we’re going to live together in a way we’ve often talked about – before it gets too late. That’s a decision I believe many Iowans can relate to, either because of their own circumstances, or perhaps those of their parents. I have the privilege to be able to make this decision on my own terms, which not everyone can, and I’m deeply grateful to the people of Iowa that I do have that opportunity. I’ve been extremely fortunate. I was born here in Cumming in modest circumstances. My father was a coal-miner with just an 8th-grade education. My mother arrived to this country as an immigrant with virtually no earthly possessions. This state and this country have allowed me to enjoy a life and career beyond anything I imagined as a boy or young man.
“Second, I’m 73 years old right now. At the end of this term I’ll be 75. When the current Congress is over, I will have served in the United States House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for a total of 40 years. After 40 years, I just feel it’s somebody else’s turn. 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.”
In announcing his plans, Harkin said that over the next two years in Congress, he would continue to advance a policy agenda that benefits Iowa. Among his priorities:
• Moving forward with bills to ensure that all Americans are able to achieve the promise of a quality education – beginning in early childhood, continuing through elementary and high school, and culminating with higher education.
• Working to significantly increase the employment of individuals with disabilities, in order to continue to fulfill the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• Advancing his proposal of a new type of pension plan, the USA Retirement Fund, to provide Americans with a secure source of retirement income for life.
• Ensuring the successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
As an appropriator and as chair of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds health, education, and labor, Harkin would ensure these initiatives have the funding necessary for implementation. So too would he continue to advance farm policy that improves, and strengthens a number of initiatives that we included in previous farm bills to assist and promote opportunities for farmers and good nutrition for consumers through farmers markets and increased local production and marketing of food.
“More than 40 years ago, I came to Washington with a simple goal: help people. It was that goal that has inspired me throughout my career and one that will continue to inspire my work. Iowans entrusted me with a great responsibility when they first elected me to public office in 1974. It is a responsibility I have never forgotten as I represented them in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate,” Harkin concluded.
Tom Harkin has represented Iowa in Congress for 38 years. First winning election to the U.S. House in 1974, he represented Iowa’s Fifth Congressional District until 1984, when he challenged an incumbent Senator and won. Iowans returned him to the Senate in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008. He is the first Iowa Democrat to win as many consecutives terms in the U.S. Senate.
Harkin has a lengthy record of achievements, among the highlights of his career:
• Advancing the Rights of Individuals with Disabilities;
• Strengthening the Middle Class through Health, Education, and Retirement Security Policies and Investments;
• Promoting a Strong Agriculture Economy, Sound Conservation, and Renewable Energy;
• Protecting Human Rights and Combatting the Worst Forms of Child Labor;
• Providing Funding to Maintain Modern Schools & Access to Healthier Communities;
• Ensuring Iowans have access to Disaster Relief and Flood Prevention and Mitigation;
• In Iowa, his office holds a record of strong constituent services, having logged its 100,000th constituent case earlier this year.
NINTH UPDATE: Steve Deace doesn’t think King will run, thinks Latham would be strong and has some interesting thoughts about a possible GOP convention to select a U.S. Senate candidate.
Don’t underestimate Congressman Tom Latham. If the relationship between the Republican Party establishment and the grassroots in Iowa were a Facebook status it would be “it’s complicated.” Branstad may be the only governor in America in either party who has absolutely no control of his own state party whatsoever. Any candidate seen as “his guy” is going to have a very hard time winning a primary. But Latham is a guy with an establishment temperament but also a fairly conservative voting record (I’m a conservative complainer, and I can’t remember the last time I complained about him). He may be one guy that could easily coalesce the party for a united front next fall, and he just defeated former Democrat Congressman Leonard Boswell in a new district in what was otherwise a bad year for Iowa Republicans.
Furthermore, Iowa law provides a wildcard. If no candidate gets at least 35% in a statewide primary campaign then the nomination is determined via convention. Keep in mind that in 2008 the Republicans avoided this scenario in the U.S. Senate primary by less than one half of one percent.
It’s no secret there is zero love lost between Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker and his Ron Paul-style state central committee and the establishment, big government Branstad Administration. If the nomination goes to convention then Spiker and his state central committee will wield a lot of influence. Many of the delegates are their people, and they will determine all the rules.
In fact, at that stage convention delegates can pick any candidate they want as the Republican U.S. Senate nominee – whether they ran in the primary or not. For example, they could pick a name like successful Campaign for Liberty activist and state party treasurer Drew Ivers.
TENTH UPDATE: Braley’s office released this statement today.
“Senator Harkin’s retirement is a huge loss for the people of Iowa. For over 30 years, Tom Harkin has been a progressive force in Washington. He’s dedicated his life to strengthening the middle class and standing up for people without a voice, and his life’s work, particularly with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Affordable Care Act, leaves a legacy that few will ever match.
“I’m proud to call Tom Harkin a friend and a mentor. His tireless work ethic and unceasing concern for everyday Iowans will be missed in Congress. Carolyn and I wish Tom and Ruth the best as they embark on their next challenge together.”
Former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker told The Iowa Republican blogger Craig Robinson that he is interested in the U.S. Senate race.
Whitaker played football for the Iowa Hawkeyes and ran unsuccessfully against state Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald in 2002. President George W. Bush later named Whitaker U.S. attorney for Iowa’s southern district. Since 2009 he has been an attorney in private practice. His law partners include State Representative Chris Hagenow (recently chosen as Iowa House majority whip) and William Gustoff, whom Governor Branstad tried to appoint to the State Judicial Nominating Commission. In 2010, the Whitaker Hagenow law firm also employed Brenna Findley, Steve King’s former chief of staff who became Branstad’s legal counsel after losing to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in 2010.
In other words, Whitaker is very well-connected in Iowa Republican circles. He won’t have any trouble raising money for a statewide race.
TENTH UPDATE: More names floating around on the Republican side besides Latham and King, according to Politico: “Iowa State Sen. Brad Zaun, Secretary of State Matt Schultz, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, social conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats, Republican Party of Iowa co-chair David Fischer and state GOP finance chairman Drew Ivers (a co-chair of Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign in Iowa).”
Northey seems to like his current job. I would be surprised to see him take on the Senate race.
Vander Plaats should know he’s not electable but may want another shot at glory.
I see Schultz running for re-election as Secretary of State, but who knows? Open U.S. Senate seats don’t come around too often.
Zaun has seemed interested in seeking higher office, but I don’t see him as a strong statewide candidate. He couldn’t beat Leonard Boswell in IA-03 in 2010, which was the best year in decades for Republicans in U.S. House races. He just stepped down from a leadership position in the Iowa Senate Republican caucus. He didn’t raise a lot of money for GOP Senate candidates last year either.
Zaun told WHO-TV’s Dave Price he is “seriously considering” the Senate race.
ELEVENTH UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson has the audio of Harkin’s remarks to the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee this morning. Excerpt:
“I’m not quitting today,” Harkin said. “This is not a time for legacy talks or anything like this. It’s a time for looking ahead. It’s a time for all of us, now, to renew our vigor, to make sure that we find the best candidate possible and to encourage others, as things start to move around here, that we really get behind these good candidates and bring them in,” Harkin said. “And so, this is not a goodbye speech. I’m not saying goodbye folks. I’m going to be very much a part of you for the next two years and beyond. Even after I leave the Senate, I don’t intend to get lost some place. I’m very much involved in the policies of our country, meeting that moral test of government that I spoke about when I first started. It’s my life, I just am going to do it in a different way now, two years from now.” […]
During an interview with me/Radio Iowa today, Harkin said he had made the decision not to seek reelection before this past week’s vote on the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate. (Harkin sought bigger changes than were made.) Harkin said he’s been thinking about retirement since the last election.
“It boils down to two things: a promise I made to my wife, Ruth, and to myself, that we were going to live together and do some things together that we’ve often talked about, never been able to do, but we want to do it before it’s too late. We’re both in great health. I have no health problems whatsoever. I’m very blessed in that way. Both of us are, but there are some things that we want to do that we’ve never been able to do. As you know, this job is pretty all-consuming,” Harkin said.
I can’t find Harkin’s classic television commercial for his 1990 re-election campaign, featuring his brother Frank. But here’s an ad from Harkin’s 1992 presidential campaign.
Here’s another blast from the past: Clinton objecting during the Senate trial of President Bill Clinton in January 1999.
Representative Dave Loebsack (D, IA-02) released this statement:
“Senator Harkin’s tireless work has improved the well-being of Iowans for more than a generation. Senator Harkin has had a direct impact on the everyday lives of people all across the nation and the globe, not just in Iowa. 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. He has truly given a voice to those who are often not heard, rather than serving as a mouthpiece for the powerful and connected.
“His knowledge, compassion and fight cannot be replaced. He has long been my political hero and I have been honored to serve with him these past six years. Terry and I wish Tom and Ruth health, happiness and success in all their future endeavors.”
TWELFTH UPDATE: Brad Anderson, a Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of State, released this statement today:
“For decades Tom Harkin has been an inspiration to anyone who cares about educating a child, providing opportunities for the disabled, or making America a stronger, healthier country. He has taught us all we can fight real hard for what we believe in and at the same time find a way to work together to pass meaningful, historic legislation. I will miss him in the Senate, but I am confident he will remain a passionate voice any struggling American who needs one.”
THIRTEENTH UPDATE: President Barack Obama released this statement today.
By the time Senator Harkin finishes his fifth term, he will have represented the people of Iowa in the United States Congress for an incredible 40 years. He has served in the U.S. Senate longer than any Democrat in Iowa’s history. During his tenure, he has fought passionately to improve quality of life for Americans with disabilities and their families, to reform our education system and ensure that every American has access to affordable health care. Senator Harkin will be missed, and Michelle and I join Iowans in thanking him for his long-standing service and wish him and his wife, Ruth, all the best in the future.
Here’s another blast from the past: Harkin’s speech at the memorial for his good friend Senator Paul Wellstone.
SUNDAY UPDATE: Jennifer Jacobs’ piece for the Sunday Des Moines Register quotes unnamed Republican insiders predicting that Latham is the only candidate who could clear the GOP field. In addition to prospects I’ve mentioned earlier in this post, Jacobs adds a few more possibilities: Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn, Iowa Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer, and Polk County Supervisor Bob Brownell.
I think Reynolds will run for governor someday, but I don’t see her running for Senate in 2014.
Strawn, Gaer, or Brownell would all face the same problem in a Republican primary: resentment toward Polk County bigwigs. Rank and file Republicans who supported Ron Paul or Rick Santorum for president may also hold a grudge against Strawn over the Iowa caucus results fiasco.
Dix would be an interesting candidate in a primary. We’ve seen repeatedly that he can raise a lot of money. In this Iowa politics podcast from January 25, James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette mentioned something I forgot: in 2004, the Republican-controlled Iowa House approved by 99 to 0 a bill granting in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants brought to Iowa as children. (That bill died in the Iowa Senate, also under Republican control at that time.) Lynch pointed out that Dix’s opponents used the “DREAM Act” vote against him in the 2006 Republican primary to represent Iowa’s first Congressional district. Dix raised the most money for that race but came in second to Mike Whalen in the four-way primary.
LATER UPDATE: Braley’s Congressional campaign released this statement on 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. Iowans deserve a Senator who will continue Tom Harkin’s legacy of strengthening the middle class and standing up for Iowans who don’t have a voice. While Senator Harkin’s shoes are impossible to fill, over the coming days my family and I will carefully weigh a possible candidacy for Senate.”