Harkin’s Retirement Puts Seat In Play for GOP

by Jessica Taylor January 26, 2013 · 1:21 PM EST

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) retirement announcement Saturday gives Republicans another pickup opportunity and Democrats another possible headache -- but also presents the GOP with another test in finding an electable candidate in the swing state that’s been trending blue.

While many had wondered whether the 73 year-old junior senator was running for re-election, there were plenty of signs that he’d run again -- including over $2 million in the bank and a fundraiser at a Lady Gaga concert scheduled for next month. Without Harkin on the ballot, the Hawkeye State now moves far up on GOP target lists.

Rep. Bruce Braley (D) has long been seen at the Democrat-in-waiting, should either Harkin or Rep. Chuck Grassley (R) retire, and he should begin as the immediate frontrunner for Democrats, though he was also exploring a run for governor against Republican Terry Branstad.

GOP money is on Reps. Tom Latham and Steve King both eyeing the coveted open seat. Last cycle’s redistricting actually drew the two men into the same district, but Latham opted to move to the 3rd District to take on (and eventually defeat) Rep. Leonard Boswell. King brushed back a challenge from former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack.

Iowa Republicans likely won’t be spared such a move this time. King has carved out a tough line on immigration and other conservative issues, and is a favorite of the Club for Growth. Latham is a favorite of leadership and a proven fundraiser, and is already seen by the GOP establishment as the stronger candidate in a statewide race. Branstad told National Journal last year that Latham would be a more formidable candidate in the Senate race, while King would have “a tough uphill climb.” 

Numbers are still on the Democrats’ side, even though the GOP year of 2010 was kind to the GOP. President Obama won the state twice now, with nearly 54 percent in 2008 and 52 percent in 2012.

Democrats still hold a slight edge in this contest, and Republicans desperately need to avoid a messy primary and put forward an electable candidate -- something that seems far from certain now. We still give Democrats the slight edge here, and now rate the open seat Lean Democrat. But that could change quickly as the contest takes shape.