Senior US Senate Democrat Harkin to retire
Fifth-term Democratic US Senator Tom Harkin said Saturday he will not seek re-election next year, setting the stage for a key mid-term election that could help Republicans retake the Senate.
The veteran senator, who wrote landmark legislation that expanded the rights of the disabled and who fought for health and education reform, said that after 40 years in Congress, "I just feel it's somebody else's turn."
In a statement announcing his decision, the 73-year-old also said he hoped to spend more time with his wife, and thanked the people of Iowa, who had allowed him to "enjoy a life and career beyond anything I imagined."
The farming state of Iowa went to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but is seen as an election battleground, and Republicans will likely mount a strong campaign for Harkin's seat in mid-term elections next year.
The Iowa Republican Party kicked off a fundraising drive within hours of the announcement, saying Harkin's retirement "just reinforces our belief that a grassroots Republican comeback can take place in 2014."
David Axelrod, a former top advisor to Obama, praised Harkin for his advocacy for the disabled, tweeting: "He'll be missed."
Axelrod predicted Harkin's exit would set up a "defining battle" between Democratic congressman Bruce Braley and Republican Representative Steve King, whom he termed a "hero of the far Right," popular among the ultra-conservative Tea Party.
Harkin, whose late brother was deaf, expanded rights for the disabled by introducing the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act -- civil rights legislation passed in 1990 that outlawed discrimination.
The law requires employers and businesses to accommodate the disabled, such as by building wheelchair ramps, providing sign language interpreters for job interviews and allowing employees to leave work for medical treatment.
In 2009, Harkin succeeded the late Senator Ted Kennedy as chairman of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, where he has worked to expand access to quality education and health care.
Harkin was first elected to the Senate in 1984, after serving 10 years in the House of Representatives, and was re-elected in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008.
Harkin's announcement came a day after Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said he would not seek re-election next year, expressing frustration with Washington gridlock that he said had shown the US Congress "at its worst."
Chambliss's retirement will trigger a fierce battle for his seat, with Georgia conservatives in the House likely to jump into the race.
Chambliss was one of the first Republicans to publicly break with a conservative pledge not to raise taxes, but he said he was not standing down for fear of a challenge from a far-right primary candidate.
Veteran Democrat Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has also said he will not seek re-election in 2014, providing Republicans with a prime opportunity to snap up a seat in a state staunchly opposed to President Barack Obama.
Republicans had hoped to regain control of the Senate in last year's election but fell far short when two right-wing candidates slid in the polls after making controversial remarks about rape and pregnancy.
Democrats control the 100-seat Senate by 55-45 seats, but Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, can block legislation in the Senate by requiring a 60-vote majority through the so-called filibuster.