U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin will not seek re-election in 2014, the Iowa Democrat said Saturday.Harkin will wrap up four decades in Washington upon his retirement, as he served for a decade as a member of Congress representing the state's now-defunct 5th district before getting elected to the Senate in 1984. It was then, in the midst of the Reagan landslide, that the liberal Harkin easily defeated Republican Sen. Roger Jepsen. He fought back a couple of serious challenges to his seat before earning a breather in 2008, when he defeated Republican Christopher Reed in a landslide.
The 73-year-old Harkin told the Associated Press in an interview, "It's just time to step aside," noting that by the time he would finish a sixth term, he would be 81.
Harkin said the move also would allow a new generation of Democrats to seek higher office.
Harkin also briefly ran for president in 1992, losing in the Democratic primaries to Bill Clinton.
Harkin's retirement could easily open the floodgates for very competitive primaries on both sides of the Senate battle. It is conceivable that all four House members could engage in the open Senate seat, though much of the Senate discussion on the Democratic side has focused on fourth-term Rep. Bruce Braley, who represents the northeastern part of the state.
Republicans, meanwhile, could have a classic establishment-versus-teabagger battle royale on their hands, as the perpetually entertaining darling of the far Right, Rep. Steve King, was mulling a bid even before Harkin's retirement. The NRSC and RNC, one must assume, will be begging veteran Rep. Tom Latham (who represents Des Moines) to make a bid. It is pretty hard to see, however, how Latham could cobble together a majority of the Republican primary vote against King.
Harkin becomes the third Senate retiree in recent weeks, joining Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.