Harkin Retiring: ‘Somebody Else’s Turn’

Updated at 5 pm EST

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa will not seek another term in 2014.

The five-term Democrat and nearly four-decade veteran of Congress is the second fixture of his party in the Senate to announce his retirement in recent weeks — Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia also is not seeking another term in two years. The two openings offer Republicans the potential of pick-ups in a Senate run by Democrats with only a narrow margin.

“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,” Harkin said in a statement released by his office today. “I’ve reached a decision, and what I’ve decided really boils down to two things.”

“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.”

He spoke today in his hometown of Cummings, where his father was a coal-miner with an eighth-grade education, his mother an immigrant.

“This state and this country have allowed me to enjoy a life and career beyond anything I imagined as a boy or young man,” Harkin said.

“Second, I’m 73 years old right now. At the end of this term I’ll be 75,” he said. “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.”

Iowa has long been represented by a Democrat, Harkin — the first Democrat to win five Senate terms there — and a Republican, Charles Grassley, in the Senate. While Republicans may view this opening as a potential pick-up, the Democrats are not without horses there — former Gov. Tom Vilsack among them. His wife, Christie Vilsack, lost a congressional election in November, failing to unseat Republican Rep. Steve King — a Tea Party favorite and name to watch in the jockeying for the Senate campaign ahead.

It’s quite an opening. Harkin “has served in the U.S. Senate longer than any Democrat in Iowa’s history,” President Barack Obama said in a statement today. “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.”

Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, chairman of the committee in charge of his party’s Senate campaigns for 2014, said in a statement today that he appreciates that “Harkin has made this decision so early in the cycle, giving us ample time to recruit a strong Democratic candidate for this seat. Iowa has a strong record of electing great Democrats, and I’m confident that we will elect a new Democratic senator.”

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