Tom Harkin’s Retirement Shifts Iowa’s 2014 Election Landscape





harkin_featuredSenator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said that he will not run to seek a 6th term.  This will be the first time in 30 years that a U.S. Senate seat has been open, and our 2014 dynamic in Iowa has just been shaken up.  With Republicans focused on taking back the U.S. Senate in 2014 it gives them a unique opportunity in Iowa.

So it begs the question who will run?

It’s still not clear whether or not Governor Terry Branstad will run for re-election as well.  His decision would certainly have a dramatic effect on who gets in the Senate race as we could potentially have two open races. Prior to Senator Harkin’s decision if Governor Branstad decided to run for re-election the list of Republicans willing to primary him is pretty short.  The list of prominent Republicans to run against Harkin would have been pretty short as well.  Democrats who were considering a run for Governor may rethink that with a view to an open Senate seat.

On the Republican side the depth of the list of candidates that could run is significant, and I’m pretty sure there will be a hard fought primary beforehand.  Here is my off-the-cuff list of potential candidates, not ranked in any particular order.  I don’t have any inside knowledge here so this is just speculation on my part.  This list doesn’t reflect necessarily those I would like to see run either.

  1. Bob Vander Plaats: the CEO of The FAMiLY Leader, he has run, unsuccessfully, for Governor three times.  Vander Plaats was at the top of my list of potential primary challengers for Branstad, but with an open Senate seat I could see him running for that.  I’ve always felt he’d make a better legislative candidate than a candidate for Governor.  So he could run, but then again maybe he’s decided his campaigning days are over.
  2. Congressman Tom Latham: He’s well known, respected, and is a strong campaigner.  He could definitely have the funding necessary to run.  While conservative, he’s lower-key and that would certainly play better in eastern Iowa.
  3. Congressman Steve King: I have to include him in the list, but based on the way he was targeted in the Iowa 4th Congressional District race, which is relatively safe territory for him, I have my doubts on whether he could win a statewide race.
  4. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey: Perhaps even lower-key than Latham, but with the demonstrated ability to win in a statewide election and to do so focused on one of Iowa’s top concerns – agriculture.  Iowans will want to send somebody to Washington who has a good handle on that issue, and Northey would fit.
  5. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz: Schultz is the rising star in the Iowa GOP.  He’s not only won statewide office, but beat an incumbent doing so.
  6. Matt Strawn: This is somewhat of a wildcard, but I could see the former chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa getting into this race.  He’s charismatic, well-spoken, and well known in Republican circles.
  7. Doug Gross: Also a wild card, but I would not be surprised to see this former candidate for Governor jump into an open Senate seat race.
  8. State Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale): He ran for Congress in 2010 unsuccessfully against now defeated Congressman Leonard Boswell.  He was most recently Michelle Bachmann’s state co-chair when she ran for President. (Updated)
  9. Matt Whitaker: A former U.S. Attorney and Iowa Hawkeyes standout said he is considering a Senate run now that Harkin has retired. (Updated)

This list is sure to grow.  I intentionally left Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds off of the Republican list because I believe she will either run for re-election with Governor Branstad or run for Governor herself should he decide not to run for a 6th term.

On the Democrat side some potential names:

  1. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:  It would not surprise me to see former Governor, now Ag Secretary, Vilsack come home to run for Harkin’s seat.  He was a two-term governor, and frankly he’d be my odds on favorite to win a Democrat primary should he decide to run.
  2. Former Governor Chet Culver: He was said he was considering a run against Governor Branstad, but this may be more appealing.  Who knows?  Like I said Harkin’s announcement made 2014 more complex.
  3. Congressman Bruce Braley: He is also in the mix for a potential gubernatorial run, but that could change.
  4. Ed Fallon: How could we talk about a Senate race without throwing his name in there?
  5. Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack: I’m not sure we can call her political career dead after losing to Congressman King.  She would have a better shot at state-wide office than she did in the 4th Congressional District. Obviously she won’t run if her husband does.

Neither of these lists are exhaustive.  Should Governor Branstad decide not to run for reelection that will also change things up as well having two statewide opens races is something Iowa has not seen in awhile.

Updated on 1/27/13 at 6:30p.

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Comments

  1. Don Andersen says

    Your #1 on the Republican side was the first one I thought of. Do you think Governor Branstad would try it? What about Steve Deace?

    • says

      No I don’t think Branstad will go for it. He’s more likely to run for re-election. I think he likes being Governor so I would be shocked if he made a move like that, especially considering his age. Steve could try, but there’s no way he’d win a primary let alone winning a general election. I don’t see him leaving what is becoming a very successful nationally syndicated radio program anyway.