* Harkin is third senator to announce upcoming retirement
* Obama praises Harkin for helping people with disabilities
* Party officials say ample time to find strong candidate
By Kay Henderson
DES MOINES, Jan 26 U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, a
veteran Iowa Democrat and one of the most liberal senators, said
on Saturday he will not seek re-election in 2014, putting at
risk what was considered a safe Democratic seat.
Harkin, 73, who has focused much of his nearly 40-year
congressional career on farm policy, education and expanding
rights for people with disabilities, is the third senator facing
re-election next year who has announced his retirement,
following Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and
Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
"It's somebody else's turn. It's time for me to step aside
... . I think that's not only good for our party, it's good for
our state and for our nation," Harkin said in an interview with
He said he had no health problems but had promised his wife
that he would quit before it was too late to enjoy other things
Iowa, site of the country's first presidential nominating
contest, is considered a political swing state. Republican
Charles Grassley is Iowa's other U.S. senator.
In remarks to the Iowa Democratic Party central committee
after his announcement, Harkin said he would stay politically
"I'm not quitting today. This is not a time for legacy talks
or anything like this," said Harkin, who has served in Congress
Several committee members had tears running down their
cheeks as he spoke.
President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat, praised Harkin
for his decades of public service.
"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," Obama said in a
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, in a
statement described Harkin as "a passionate progressive, whose
deeply held principles have provided a guiding light to
Democrats for decades."
SEARCH IS ON
Party officials said Harkin's announcement, coming early in
the current two-year election cycle, provides ample time to
recruit a strong Democratic candidate.
Among Democrats, U.S. Representative Bruce Braley is widely
seen as a front-runner. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack,
a former Iowa governor, and his wife, Christine Vilsack, who ran
unsuccessfully for Congress last year, are also viewed as
Among Republicans, U.S. Representatives Tom Latham, a
moderate, and Steve King, a conservative, are mentioned as
possible candidates, which could produce a divisive Republican
Obama won Iowa in the November election. But the state has a
Republican governor, and a divided legislature and congressional
Harkin's retirement "just reinforces our belief that a
grassroots Republican comeback can take place in 2014. Let's
have it start in Iowa," Iowa Republican Party Chairman A.J.
Spiker said in an email appeal to state Republicans.
The party needs to pick up six seats in the mid-term
elections next year to get a majority in the 100-member Senate.
One of the last of the Senate's old-guard liberals, Harkin
angrily opposed the White House over the recent fiscal cliff
compromise that Vice President Joe Biden negotiated with Senate
Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Harkin said the deal that raised taxes only on the very rich
helps the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 and to
the Senate in 1984, Harkin said someone younger needs to take
"I've been there 40 years. I'm 73. By the time I run (for
re-election), I'd be 75," he said.