Harkin's decision marks a major shift in Iowa politics, as he will have represented Iowans in Congress for 40 years when his current term is completed.
"After 40 years, I just feel it's somebody else's turn," Harkin said in a statement released Saturday morning. " I can't put into words what an honor it is to serve Iowa. And I don't by any means plan to retire completely from public life at the end of this Congress. But I am going to make way for someone new in this Senate seat. I think that is right not just for me, but for Iowa, as well."
Harkin, 73, said he'd been thinking about whether to seek re-election for months, but that it's been top of mind in recent weeks.
"I'm going to fulfill a promise that I made to my wife Ruth, and that I also made to myself," Harkin said in a statement. "It's a promise that we're going to do certain things together -- and that we're going to live together in a way we've often talked about -- before it gets too late. That's a decision I believe many Iowans can relate to, either because of their own circumstances, or perhaps those of their parents. I have the privilege to be able to make this decision on my own terms, which not everyone can, and I'm deeply grateful to the people of Iowa that I do have that opportunity," he continued."
Harkin, a Democrat from Cumming, will be 75 at the end of his term and has represented Iowa in Congress for 38 years. First winning election to the U.S. House in 1974, he represented Iowa's Fifth Congressional District until 1984, when he challenged an incumbent Senator and won. Iowans returned him to the Senate in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008. He is the first Iowa Democrat to win as many consecutives terms in the U.S. Senate.
Harkin has been a staunch supporter of the middle class through a variety of health and education policies, and played a key role in crafting the Farm Bill. He was a primary author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, breaking down physical and employment barriers. He was also a key
Harkin has several key committee appointments. He is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, serves on Appropriations, Small Business and Entrepreneurship and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committees.
Senator Michael Bennet, Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, praised Harkin's career and said his early decision will help in recruiting Democratic candidates for the seat.
"He is a great legislator and his accomplishments in health care, education, and on behalf of people with disabilities will be remembered long after he leaves," Bennet said. "I appreciate that Senator Harkin has made this decision so early in the cycle, giving us ample time to recruit a strong Democratic candidate for this seat. Iowa has a strong record of electing great Democrats, and I'm confident that we will elect a new Democratic senator next November."
Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley, of Waterloo, who many have speculated could be a candidate for the seat, called Harkin a friend and mentor with a tireless work ethic on behalf of everyday Iowans.
"Senator Harkin's retirement is a huge loss for the people of Iowa," Braley said. "For over 30 years, Tom Harkin has been a progressive force in Washington. He's dedicated his life to strengthening the middle class and standing up for people without a voice, and his life's work, particularly with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Affordable Care Act, leaves a legacy that few will ever match."
Long-time Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, 79, who is undecided about seeking his own seventh term, said earlier this month he expected Harkin to seek another term.
"I have seen no indication that he is not going to run except what you see in some rags in Washington, D.C., that says he's one of three or four Democrats who won't run for re-election," Grassley said. "I've been hearing those things for a long time -- even the last couple of times (Harkin) ran for re-election."
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