Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Harkin: Iowa a hotter sun in presidential political universe

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin has a message for Democratic presidential candidates in 2008: win Iowa and win the nomination.

Harkin tells the Daily Times Herald he believes the status of the Iowa caucuses is only enhanced by Saturday’s shake-up that inserts the Nevada caucus in between the expected Jan. 14 Iowa caucuses and Jan. 22 New Hampshire primary.

The closeness of those contests on the calendar, along with a South Carolina primary a week after New Hampshire, means candidates will have to be the political equivalent of a basketball point guard with a quick first step.

“It’s so close that whoever wins Iowa will basically win everything,” Harkin said in an interview at the Garst Farm Resorts this past Sunday. “Actually, Iowa becomes more important than ever now in this scenario because they’re so bunched together. Whoever wins Iowa, it’s so close to Nevada, you get the bounce.

Harkin said, “What they tried to do to knock Iowa out actually makes Iowa more important than ever.”

There’s just not enough time to recover from a second- or third-place finish in Iowa, said Harkin, who ran himself in 1992, winning Iowa but failing to make a strong showing in New Hampshire as President Clinton emerged as “The Comeback Kid.”

“I told John Kerry this before he ran: if someone can win Iowa and New Hampshire, they’re going to win the nomination of the party,” Harkin said. “He disagreed. Well, I was right about it. I was just wrong about who I bet on.”

Harkin supported Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in 2004.

While he sees the new primary and caucus schedule as advantageous, Harkin said the Democratic National Committee should have left the system as is.

“They shouldn’t have even tinkered with it at all,” he said.

He blamed his Democratic colleague in the U.S. Senate, Carl Levin of Michigan, for pushing the changes for years to “get rid of Iowa.”

Harkin said New Hampshire may balk at the new DNC plan and vault its primary ahead.
“Iowa law says we have to be at least eight days before the next one,” he said.

That may mean Iowa Democrats will be caucusing in late 2007, say between Christmas Day and New Year’s or right after the holidays, Harkin said.

“This whole thing could just fall apart because of two people who kept prodding and pushing to get rid of Iowa,” Harkin said. “Well, they couldn’t get rid of Iowa but they got this thing all messed up.”

Harkin said be believes Tom Vilsack’s presidential ambitions in Iowa are in the governor’s own hands.

Can another Democrat win even with Vilsack in the race, and does such a prospect, of gaining a road win so to speak, make Iowa even more attractive?

“That depends on how hard Vilsack works Iowa,” Harkin said. “There is a sense of hometown pride and that kind of thing, but he has to make sure that Iowans see him as a potential candidate. If he has the support and money and things like that, then people will see him like that.”

But Democrats don’t have the same loyalty to Vilsack that they do to Harkin who cruised to a win here in 1992.

Is that personality, character, or do some Iowans still not fully accept Vilsack as a Hawkeye Stater because he’s a Pennsylvania native?

“This is who I am with my ancestors,” Harkin said. “I just feel a part of it, and I’m sure Tom also must feel that way.”

“I don’t know about this other stuff,” Harkin said. “That’s hard to gauge. Maybe it’s personality.”

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