Chambliss, Harkin to Retire; Senate Dominoes Falling

The past few days brought two Senate retirement announcements as both Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) made public their intentions not to seek another term. When the 113th Congress ends in January 2015, Harkin will conclude 40 years of congressional service: 30 in the Senate and 10 in the House. Sen. Chambliss will complete two senatorial terms after serving four as a Representative for a grand total of 20 years in elective federal office.


The Georgia race likely will be decided from the Republican nomination process, and at least two current GOP House members, Reps. Tom Price (R-GA-6) and Paul Broun (R-GA-10), are likely Senate contenders. Reps. Jack Kingston (R-GA-1), Phil Gingrey (R-GA-11), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA-3) are also potential candidates, as are former presidential aspirant Herman Cain and ex-Secretary of State Karen Handel. Democratic Rep. John Barrow (D-GA-12), who successfully held a newly configured Republican-leaning seat in 2012, says he will not run statewide but is planning to seek re-election in 2014.


The open Iowa campaign will be much different from the Georgia situation as competitive party primaries are expected as well as a tough general election race. It is not out of the realm of possibility that all four of Iowa’s sitting US Representatives could jump into the Senate or governor’s race, but the true field of candidates will take some time to forge as the Harkin retirement decision came as a bit of a surprise.

The Iowa Republican primary could become very interesting. The first question to consider is whether five-term Gov. Terry Branstad is willing to run for the Senate. Expected to seek re-election to an unprecedented sixth non-consecutive gubernatorial term, Branstad has clearly proven he can win statewide as a conservative.

Turning to the congressional delegation, the Republican establishment is eager to support Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA-3) for a statewide US Senate race. After winning a bruising paired incumbent general election with veteran Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3) 52-44 percent this past November, Latham has developed an extremely strong political finance base that would serve him well in a statewide contest. He would be a strong general election candidate.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA-4), however, is considered of opposite strength to Latham. Like the Des Moines-area congressman, King also had a difficult re-election battle in 2012 but won handily. He defeated the wife of former governor and current US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (D) by a relatively strong margin (53-45 percent) in one of the most expensive combined campaigns in the country. King is a favorite of the grassroots side of the Republican Party and formidable in any primary battle. He is likely to be a weaker candidate in the general election than either Branstad or Latham, however.

For the Democrats, 1st District Rep. Bruce Braley is a virtual certainty to be in one of the two top statewide races. Reported last week to be considering running for governor — a key reason many believed Sen. Harkin was sure to run for re-election, otherwise Braley would have been overtly building support for an open Senate race — the eastern Iowa congressman will probably run where Branstad does not. Should the governor seek re-election, then count on Braley to run for the Senate. Should Branstad cross over and challenge for the open Senate seat, then look for Braley to run for governor. Regardless of what becomes of his eventual statewide political plan, it appears clear that Braley’s 1st District House seat will host a hotly contested 2014 open seat campaign.

Second District Rep. David Loebsack is less of a statewide possibility. Though he may consider running, his political apparatus is not nearly as strong as Braley’s and would definitely be weaker against the Republicans in a tough statewide open seat campaign.

The other Democrat who must be considered more in play today than before the Harkin announcement is former Gov. Chet Culver. Culver, who was elected in the Democratic wave year of 2006, is the son of ex-US Sen. John Culver. Like his father who served one lone Senate term, Chet Culver failed to win re-election to his statewide post. The ex-governor had already indicated that he is considering another run for his old job but, since the Senate seat has come open, his options have potentially grown.

Much will now begin to unfold in both Georgia and Iowa. Though the Peach State seat should be safely Republican in the general election, the Iowa contest will be competitive. Democrats normally begin with a slight edge in the Hawkeye State, but the Harkin opening now gives the GOP a legitimate conversion chance in a place where before there was none.

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