Harkin set to announce bid for fifth term

MARCH 8TH, 2008 | ryan.alexander

By MIKE GLOVER | Quad City Times

DES MOINES, Iowa – U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin is expected to formally announce that he will seek a fifth term in office, which if successful would make him the longest serving Democrat in the state’s history.

“I will approach this campaign as I have every other,” Harkin said Thursday. “That is, I will approach it as if I’m running for the first time.”

Harkin, 68, plans to make the formal announcement Monday morning in his hometown of Cumming, but there’s no suspense about his decision. He has been raising money and building a campaign organization for months. He’s setting the stage for the announcement with a series of fundraisers in virtually every corner of the state, beginning Friday in Davenport and Dubuque and sweeping through Burlington, Ames, Iowa City, Storm Lake and Sioux City before ending Monday night in Council Bluffs.

Though Republicans have unable to find a a high-profile candidate to oppose Harkin, he made it clear during a conference call with Iowa reporters that he has no plans to coast through the campaign.

“I will tell Iowans what I will do for the next six years,” Harkin said. “I feel very good about the breadth of support I’ve gotten. Many prominent Republicans around Iowa have said they will not only support me, they have contributed to my campaign.”

Republicans have over the years made Harkin their top target, but he’s defeated a string of well-financed Congressmen the GOP has thrown at him. The pickings are far more slim this year.

Cedar Rapids businessman Steve Rathje has announced plans to run against Harkin as a Republican, but he’s a political newcomer who isn’t well known around the state. Former state legislator George Eichhorn, of Stratford, has also expressed an interest in seeking the GOP nomination, but Harkin would begin the race as a prohibitive favorite against either.

Federal Election Commission records showed that Harkin has already spent more than $1.5 million, and has more than $3.4 million in the bank. Rathje, by contrast, reported $58 in the bank, with a debt of $19,959. Eichhorn has not established a campaign committee.

Harkin is arguably the most successful Democrat in the state’s history. After serving as a Navy pilot in the Vietnam era, Harkin lost a race for Congress in 1972. It’s the only loss on his record. He ousted an incumbent Republican in 1974, and was in Congress for 10 years.

He defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Roger Jepsen in 1984, and has won three elections since then. Harkin sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, but quickly dropped from the race.

Harkin’s tenure has given him clout in the Senate, where he chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and made him a powerful political figure in a state that holds precinct caucuses that launch the presidential nominating season.

Harkin’s annual steak fry is one the biggest events Democrats have, and it’s proven to be a magnet for presidential candidates. He has maintained a studious neutrality in the hotly contested Democratic contest, and said he’ll continue that stance. He said he isn’t even hearing from remaining contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“No one has called me,” said Harkin, who will be a super delegate at next summer’s convention. “I intend to stay neutral.”

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