01/26/2013 03:06 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

Tom Harkin Retires; Senate Loses Another Liberal Lion

With the announcement by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (D) that he will not seek reelection in 2014, the Senate stands to lose two of the remaining members whose politics were formed during the era of the New Deal coalition.

Harkin and West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D), who is also retiring at the end of 2014, are two of the strongest defenders of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and are ardent advocates of an active role for the federal government in the economy.

Harkin first won election to the House in the Watergate wave year of 1974 and won a Senate seat a decade later, in 1984. That same year Rockefeller joined him in the Senate. With the loss of Rockefeller, the Senate will lose perhaps its most outspoken defender of Medicaid.

Harkin was most recently at the forefront of the fight to reform the filibuster, a battle he and other liberals lost. "It's not easy to walk away, but life is fleeting," Harkin told The New York Times in an interview Saturday. "I've had the privilege to be here for 40 years. Too many people hang on to power for too long, and that’s not right."

He told The Des Moines Register he hopes Democrats pick a nominee who is “smart, savvy, knows how to put together a winning campaign and is a good pragmatic progressive.”

The GOP's chance of retaking the Senate increases with the departures of Harkin and Rockefeller, also raising the possibility that Tea Party favorite Rep. Steve King will ascend to the upper chamber.

UPDATE -- 4:58 p.m.: President Barack Obama issued the following statement on Harkin's announcement:

By the time Senator Harkin finishes his fifth term, he will have represented the people of Iowa in the United States Congress for an incredible 40 years. He has served in the U.S. Senate longer than any Democrat in Iowa's history. During his tenure, he has fought passionately to improve quality of life for Americans with disabilities and their families, to reform our education system and ensure that every American has access to affordable health care. Senator Harkin will be missed, and Michelle and I join Iowans in thanking him for his long-standing service and wish him and his wife, Ruth, all the best in the future.



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