Senior US Senate Democrat Tom Harkin to retire

January 27, 2013 - 1:12:44 am

WASHINGTON: Fifth-term Democratic US Senator Tom Harkin said yesterday that he will not seek re-election next year, setting the stage for a key mid-term election that could help Republicans retake the Senate.

The veteran senator, who wrote landmark legislation that expanded the rights of the disabled and who fought for health and education reform, said that after 40 years in Congress, “I just feel it’s somebody else’s turn.”

In a statement announcing his decision, the 73-year-old also said he hoped to spend more time with his wife, and thanked the people of Iowa, who had allowed him to “enjoy a life and career beyond anything I imagined.”

The farming state of Iowa went to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but is seen as an election battleground, and Republicans will likely mount a strong campaign for Harkin’s seat in mid-term elections next year. The Iowa Republican Party kicked off a fundraising drive within hours of the announcement, saying Harkin’s retirement “just reinforces our belief that a grassroots Republican comeback can take place in 2014.”

David Axelrod, a former top advisor to Obama, praised Harkin for his advocacy for the disabled, tweeting: “He’ll be missed.”

Axelrod predicted Harkin’s exit would set up a “defining battle” between Democratic congressman Bruce Braley and Republican Representative Steve King, whom he termed a “hero of the far Right,” popular among the ultra-conservative Tea Party. Harkin, whose late brother was deaf, expanded rights for the disabled by introducing the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act — civil rights legislation passed in 1990 that outlawed discrimination. AFP