Democrat Tom Harkin has decided not to seek re-election to his U.S. Senate seat in 2014, when Republicans try to gain control of the chamber.
Harkin’s decision, which he has been considering for months, was motivated by a desire to spend time with his wife after nearly 40 years of public service, he said in a statement yesterday.
“I am going to fulfill a promise that I made to my wife Ruth, and that I also made to myself,” Harkin said in the statement. “It’s a promise that we are going to do certain things together -- and that we are going to live together in a way we’ve often talked about, before it gets too late.”
The open seat in Iowa, which voted for Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012 and 2008 and Republican President George W. Bush in 2004, will be part of the contest for control of the Senate in 2014. Democrats and independents aligned with them control 55 seats in the 100-member Senate. The party will be defending seats next year in several states that Obama lost in the 2012 election, including West Virginia, Louisiana, Montana and North Carolina.
Harkin, 73, said he will be 75 when his current term ends. He first won election to the U.S. Congress in 1974, and became senator in 1984.
“It’s somebody else’s turn,” Harkin said. “I am going to make way for someone new in this Senate seat.”
Harkin is the third senator to decide not to seek re-election next near. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, 69, announced Jan. 25 he won’t seek a third term, giving Democrats a chance to win an open Senate seat in a state that backed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller, 75, said Jan. 11 that he wouldn’t seek a sixth term, giving Republicans an opportunity to win a Senate seat that Democrats have held since the 1950s in a state that also backed Romney in 2012.
“I appreciate that Senator Harkin has made his decision so early in the cycle, giving us ample time to recruit a strong Democratic candidate for this seat,” Senator Michael Bennet, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
While Obama carried Iowa by six points, “Democrats will still have to pay attention to the state,” Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report said.
“There are seven Democratic Senate seats up in states carried by Mitt Romney, including six in states Romney won by 14 points or more, so clearly Iowa won’t be one of their biggest headaches,” Cook said in an e-mail. “But they still will have to fight to hold it.”
During his tenure, Harkin pushed for legislation banning discrimination against people with disabilities, called for revamping the U.S. health-care system and fought against child labor. In his two remaining years, he said, he will also promote secure pension plans and education.
“Senator Harkin will be missed,” Obama said in an e-mailed statement.
Harkin has been in the Senate longer than any Democrat in Iowa’s history, Obama said in the statement. “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.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada issued a statement calling Harkin “a passionate progressive” with “deeply held principles.”
Harkin unsuccessfully pursued his party’s presidential nomination in 1992.
Harkin has $2.7 million in his campaign fund at of the end of December and had been planning a fundraiser next month, Harkin spokeswoman Kate Frischmann said in an e-mail.