Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa Won't Seek Re-Election

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa Won’t Seek Re-Election

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa Won’t Seek Re-Election

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Jan. 26 2013 1:26 PM

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa Won’t Seek Sixth Term

Sen. Tom Harkin passed up the chance to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee in November, choosing to stay on as head of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republicans got some good news Saturday when Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa announced he won’t be seeking re-election next year, giving the GOP a chance at a seat in the swing state. Harkin was first elected in 1984 and ranks seventh in seniority in the Senate. But he’s still the junior senator from Iowa, outranked by Sen. Charles Grassley, who has held his seat since 1980.

"I just think it's time for me to step aside," the 73-year-old senator told the Associated Press. In a statement, Harkin said that in addition to his age, he also wants to make good on a promise to his wife that “we’re going to live together in a way we’ve often talked about—before it gets too late." Harkin recognized to the Des Moines Register that “to walk away from this position and this power is not an easy thing” but insisted he won’t be “passing the torch sitting down. … I intend to be very active over the next two years.”

Harkin, long one of the more liberal members of the Senate, will likely most be remembered for his key role in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. It’s widely expected that Rep. Bruce Braley, a fourth-term Democrat, will seek to take over Harkin’s seat. But Republicans are also hopeful they may finally be able to pick up a seat in Iowa. “It’ll be wide-open as far as both parties,” Republican state chairman A.J. Spiker tells Politico. “Iowa is so purple. It’s just a really purple state. Our nominee will be well positioned.” Democrats now have to defend open seats in Iowa, Massachusetts, and West Virginia, details the New York Times.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.