Return Incumbents to Washington

OCTOBER 27TH, 2008 | Harkin for Senate

Read the original story at the Dubuque Telegraph Herald

Most election campaigns to determine Northeast Iowans’ federal lawmakers have been spirited affairs. However, this year’s elections for seats in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate are exceptions.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for many voters is that Democrats Bruce Braley and Tom Harkin have Republican opponents. Little has been seen of or heard from David Hartsuch and Christopher Reed this campaign.

Though the GOP might try to argue otherwise, dollars speak louder than words. Party leadership’s involvement and support say more than rhetoric. The Republicans are saying that they are conceding these seats to the Democrats.

Reed, who opposes Harkin’s re-election to a fifth six-year term in the Senate, says that from his experience as a prep wrestler he learned, “I have to fight my own battles.” Good thing, because he is essentially fighting Harkin on his own.

When Harkin, one of the nation’s most liberal senators, has sought re-election previously, the Republicans nominated congressmen, men with experience in Washington and name recognition in a substantial portion of Iowa. (For those keeping score at home, they were Dubuque’s Tom Tauke in 1990, Jim Ross Lightfoot in 1996 and Greg Ganske in 2002.) They were spirited and reasonably financed races. Harkin, a federal lawmaker since his election to the House in 1974, prevailed each time—but not without a fight.

This time, Harkin’s opponent is Reed, a 36-year-old Marion resident, military veteran and owner of a telephone answering service. His campaign motto of “Iowa Values. Conservative Principles” will resonate with a certain segment of the electorate; there are some who will never vote for someone as liberal as Harkin. Beyond that, however, Reed is unconvincing that he should replace the 68-year-old Harkin.

Among the hallmarks of Harkin’s tenure are advocacy for the disabled, for veterans and for farmers. He takes pride in bringing home the bacon – OK, sometimes it includes “pork” – in the form of government grants and programs for his home state. When floods hit Iowa, Harkin (working in bipartisan fashion with Charles Grassley, the state’s Republican senator) worked hard to bring federal assistance to the state. He pushes for improved health care – including prevention and wellness – and a more innovative and independent energy program. He takes pride in being a fighter, and he fights for Iowa.

Like Reed, Hartsuch, a first-term state senator from Bettendorf, is similarly receiving little or no help from Republican leadership in his House race against Braley. That’s unfortunate, because he represents an interesting alternative to the incumbent, who won his seat just two years ago after a hard-fought primary and then a rough general-election campaign against businessman Mike Whalen.

Hartsuch’s message resonates with voters. The 47-year-old unseated longtime incumbent Maggie Tinsman – a member of his own party – en route to winning his state Senate seat two years ago. He is smart and he has a wealth of real-world experience. His extensive education and his insight fuel his conservative message. An emergency-room physician, Hartsuch holds a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree (computer science) and medical degree. He was a certified public accountant. A native of the Chicago suburbs who has lived in the district only a half-dozen years, he understands business and finances—and takes issue with Braley’s recent support of the huge bailout of the financial markets.

Actually, Braley, a lawyer from Waterloo, voted against the bailout the first time around. When it came back around – with enhancements such as a much-needed (but temporary) fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax – Braley held his nose and voted (again) with the majority. This time, the measure passed.

In his first term in Washington, Braley got up to speed quickly. Though he holds to Democratic Party principles, he tries to forge bipartisan cooperation and takes care to not fall into the Washington mind frame of demagoguing the opposition party.

Braley has had a solid first term. Despite his own positives, Hartsuch is unconvincing that voters should make a change at this stage.

That these Northeast Iowa campaigns for Washington lack the usual vigor suggests that even most Republicans recognize that Bruce Braley and Tom Harkin have performed at a level assuring their re-election. Voters would do well to return them to the Capitol.

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