Thursday, June 05, 2008

Muscular Harkin Flexible For Obama, Other Iowa Democrats

Facing a Republican primary winner who appears to be a stillborn candidate for November, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, will have the flexibility and the left-over fund-raising muscle to assist Barack Obama at the top of the ticket in the Hawkeye State -- although Harkin suggested to reporters this week it would likely be in the form of organization rather than money.

"I don't think Obama's going to be hurting for money," Harkin joked.

Earlier in the day Harkin officially announced his support of Obama after having stayed neutral in the protracted primary fight.

Harkin, who has dispatched three congressmen and one sitting U.S. senator in his previous four races for the Senate, will be up against political upstart Christopher Reed, 36, a Marion businessman who was driving himself around to campaign events in recent weeks -- unless George Eichhorn, fresh off a failed state legislative race, pulls out a recount.

In a conference call with Iowa Independent and other media Harkin hit the expected keys, saying he wouldn't take his re-election for granted.

"I don't believe in any way I can walk or skip," Harkin said.

But with a nation trending for change and a newly minted farm bill on the resume the stars are aligned for Harkin.

"I have more Republicans supporting me openly than ever before," Harkin said.

This powerhouse position will allow him to train his own considerable political instincts and vast organization, developed over a half century since his days as an Iowa State University student, on congressional and statehouse races and Obama.

"I think Barack has an excellent chance of winning Iowa," Harkin said.

Harkin said he could best help Obama by getting out his own voters. He also said he planned to travel with congressional and other down-ticket candidates.

Because he starts this race a hairsbreadth from the finishing tape, Harkin can do soemething else that may be vital for Obama: he can take chances on the attack.

While Harkin's recent criticism of U.S. Sen. John McCain's biography as something of a family tree rooted in a military industrial complex may have been questionable, off key to Iowans who people Rotary Clubs and the like, it served to advance a narrative of the GOP presidential candidate as a warrior itching for another fight. In a tight race against Tom Tauke or Jim Ross Lightfoot the media would have been all over this and it could have tipped the race against the liberal lion. Harkin doesn't have to worry about that now so he can fire away at McCain.

Look for that to come more on farm policy than personality, though. The word "ethanol" is a positive one for most Iowans, who even if they don't live on farms, think they should probably be for things and people that help ethanol. McCain is strongly opposed to ethanol subsidies -- and is on record as saying he would have voted against the Harkin-shepherded farm bill.

"We employ thousands of people in Iowa in ethanol," Harkin said.

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