Should Iowa Democrats Adopt a Senator? And Who?

Guest post from Josh Hughes

It’s not necessarily a fun time to be an Iowa Democrat.

After 30 years of Tom Harkin’s steady hand, us Democrats are in the proverbial “wilderness”. With just one of six federally elected positions in our column, and a teetering, one seat majority in the State Senate, Iowa Democrats are in a precarious situation. We are living in a post-Tom Harkin reality- one where we can’t take for granted having a level headed, progressive voice in the US Senate.

While we have several outstanding candidates that are running for Senate in 2016, and surely more biding their time for 2020, we can’t wait that long. Iowa needs an adopted senator, a progressive that shares Iowa values, like Tom Harkin. I’ve made the case for a few Midwestern senators below. They are ranked by comparative voting record (from National Journal’s rankings of the 113th Congress), relative home state popularity, and a personality factor. (Tom Harkin’s liberal voting record in 2013 was 77.8)

1. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota
First Elected, 2006
Liberal Voting Record: 74.3

Amy Klobuchar is not the most notable United States Senator, but she closest matches Tom Harkin among the Midwestern senators. As the county attorney for Minneapolis and surrounding areas, she won election in a Democratic wave year, but won a landslide (in the make of Harkin v. Reed, 2008) in 2012. She is an experienced legal mind, who has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Klobuchar has been floated as a possible Attorney General or Supreme Court appointee, and possible presidential candidate. Amy Klobuchar’s genuine “Minnesota Nice” personality most embodies the way that Tom Harkin perfectly embodied the spirit of Iowa. Because of all this, she is ranked first.

2. Claire McCaskill, Missouri
First Elected: 2006
Liberal Voting Record: 52.7

Claire McCaskill is not a typical Democratic senator. She is tough as nails, fiercely ambitious, and “Plenty Ladylike”. Elected first in 2006 and reelected against all odds in 2012, McCaskill has a track record of defeating Congressmen in the mold of Tom Harkin. McCaskill comes from humble upbringings in south-central Missouri, and was a member of the Missouri State House, Jackson County Prosecutor, and Missouri State Auditor before running for US Senate. McCaskill has championed issues such as sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. McCaskill isn’t the Prairie Progressive that Tom Harkin was, but Missouri certainly isn’t Iowa, either. McCaskill does mirror Harkin in her small town upbringing, and her fearless personality ranks her second on this list.

3. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin
First Elected: 2012
Liberal Voting Record: 86.3

In just shy of three years in the Senate, Tammy Baldwin has very quickly made a name for herself leading Liberal Democrats with the likes of Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren. A former Congresswoman, she is the first and only openly gay member of the US Senate and the first female Senator from Wisconsin. Ranked as one of the most liberal members of the House during her 7 terms, she successfully owned her voting record in swingy Wisconsin, beating a popular former Governor for an open seat in 2012. Since then Baldwin has been a vocal champion for reproductive rights and sexual assault reforms while in the Senate. Her positions of fighting for the ‘little guy’, much like Harkin, make her an ideal choice to ‘represent’ Iowa, and she places third on this list.

4. Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota
First Elected: 2012
Liberal Voting Record: 52.7

What a world we live in when North Dakota has more Democratic Senators than Iowa. Heidi Heitkamp is about as North Dakotan as they come. She was born and raised in a small town with six brothers and sisters. Her ads from the 2012 cycle highlight her roots, and like some of Tom Harkin’s early ads, they are really, really good. Senator Heitkamp was the tax commissioner of North Dakota, and later Attorney General before stepping out of the public eye for almost 12 years before running for Senate. She won her race in a squeaker- just by 1% in a race that almost no one expected the Democrat to win. Senator Heitkamp serves on the Agriculture committee, has sponsored Human Trafficking legislation, and has been a stalwart defender of Native American interests in the US Senate. Heitkamp is a moderate in all senses of the word (she is a Democrat in North Dakota, after all), but that’s the special factor that makes her a solid choice for Iowa’s adopted senator.

5. Al Franken, Minnesota
First Elected: 2008
Liberal Voting Record: 86.3

Al Franken has made a habit of defying expectations. In 2008, he ran a long-shot Senate bid, where he ultimately defeated a popular Republican incumbent and former mayor of St. Paul by 312 votes out of nearly three million cast after an arduous recount and court battle. Since then, the former Saturday Night Live star, Air America talk show host, and political commentator has remained largely out of the spotlight, to the surprise of many. Instead of pursuing a ‘funny guy’ persona in the Senate (Franken joked that he lost his sense of humor during the recount), he has devoted much of his first term to working hard for his state as a strong progressive, posting one of the most liberal voting scores. When Republicans promised to make him a one-term Senator, Franken buckled down, stepped up fundraising and visibility, and ran a solid reelection campaign free from gaffes and with some very solid ads. Since then, Franken has talked extensively about how little he likes serving in the minority, and has began fundraising for Senate candidates around the nation. Iowans would be lucky to have Franken as a senator.

So, what do you think? Who should Iowa Democrats coalesce around as a voice in the Senate until we can elect one of our own?


by Josh Hughes
Posted 12/22/15

2 Comments on "Should Iowa Democrats Adopt a Senator? And Who?"

  • As an Iowan living in Minnesota, we would be very willing to share either Senator Klobuchar or Senator Franken. I love Minnesota, but in order to stay closer to family in the Cedar Rapids area, I am considering moving back to Iowa in the near future. But my desire to do that is lessened greatly by Iowa’s turn to the right.

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