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Senate’s ‘Martin and Lewis’ act, and candidates you shouldn’t overlook


U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley (left) and Tom Harkin, of Iowa — a Republican and Democrat respectively — sat next to each other at the presidential inauguration. They co-hosted an event for Iowans after the ceremonies and traded good-natured jokes, much to the delight of Iowa’s four congressmen. Photo by Douglas Burns

U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley (left) and Tom Harkin, of Iowa — a Republican and Democrat respectively — sat next to each other at the presidential inauguration. They co-hosted an event for Iowans after the ceremonies and traded good-natured jokes, much to the delight of Iowa’s four congressmen. Photo by Douglas Burns

Congressman Bruce Braley admitted he had a hard act to follow.

Iowa’s two U.S. senators, Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley, who were both sworn into Congress in 1975, celebrated their 10th presidential inauguration dating back to President Jimmy Carter, who was in attendance in Washington, D.C., last Monday as President Barack Obama took the oath of office for a second term.

Democrat Harkin and Republican Grassley sat next to each other outside the U.S. Capitol. So did their wives, Ruth Harkin and Barbara Grassley.

“We were the only state in which that happened,” Harkin said.


The senators co-hosted an Iowa gathering in the Senate’s Russell Building for Iowans after the ceremony.

Cell phone service was spotty or down on the Capitol grounds as Obama spoke, meaning Grassley, a prolific user of the micro-blogging site Twitter, could not fire out his “tweets” with thoughts on the president’s speech.                

“You’re the one who’s always tweeting,” Harkin said at the Iowa event, laughing, with an arm around his colleague.                

Grassley joked that his Twitter account likely was disabled because the president is a Democrat.                

Braley, an eastern Iowa congressman, said the good-natured senatorial ribbing recalled an iconic act of the 20th century.                

“I didn’t know when I came here today that the comedy duo of Harkin and Grassley would be the Senate version of Martin and Lewis,” Braley joked.              

More than 100 Iowans joined Harkin, Grassley, Braley, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, at the Hawkeye State event.                

“It is something to show the world that we can do these things… without coups, without violence, mob action,” Harkin said.                

Added Grassley, “We do things in this country by evolution, not a revolution, thank God.”               

Grassley said Iowa has a strong history of divided government with a split Legislature and senatorial delegation.                

“When it comes to looking out for Iowa, I think you’re going to get the same respect from both Republicans and Democrats,” Grassley said.                

King marked his third presidential inauguration.                

“You would be surprised at how good things feel when I think about how we have this transfer of power in a peaceful way,” King said. “That’s inside of me this day.”

• • •

Harkin successor?                

Carroll Republican Rod Roberts, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals director and a former state legislator and candidate for governor, said he viewed a potential bid for the U.S. Senate as an uphill battle but would not rule out a campaign.                

“In politics, you never say never,” Roberts said.                

After spending nearly a year on the gubernatorial campaign trail in the 2010 election cycle, Roberts closed his Terrace Hill pursuit with a third-place Republican primary finish. But Roberts developed a statewide brand and earned praise as a consensus-building politician who could bring conservatives and moderates together in his party.                

Roberts earned significant goodwill with a state party convention speech in which he supported Gov. Terry Branstad’s choice of a running mate, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, amid a spirited challenge from conservative Bob Vander Plaats. Many saw Vander Plaats’ attempt to hijack the second slot for himself as vain and destructive — a marked contrast with Roberts’ selfless approach — which Republican insiders have not forgotten.                

The Iowa political world is jumping with speculation about possible successors to U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the liberal lion who announced he will not seek re-election to a sixth term in 2014. Topping the list on the Republican side are U.S. Reps. Tom Latham and Steve King.                

“Then maybe a couple of others,” Roberts said.                

Reynolds is being floated by pundits and some Republicans as a possible candidate for the Senate.                

On the Democratic side, the conversation at this point hinges on the decision of U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a four-term Democrat from Waterloo.                

Roberts said Republicans started reaching out to him and suggested he consider running for the Senate seat after the Harkin press release went national.                

“You don’t just dismiss that,” said Roberts.                

Roberts, even with statewide experience, said his challenge clearly would be fundraising in what will undoubtedly be an expensive campaign.                

“Realistically, I don’t know how it (major fundraising) is even in the realm of possibility for somebody like me,” Roberts said.                

One other possibility for Roberts is a bid for the 4th Congressional District seat should King, a Kiron Republican, run for the Senate.                

“I think that becomes another interesting question,” Roberts said.                

Former Iowa Republican Party Co-Chairman David Oman, a party insider with ties to Branstad and former Gov. Robert Ray, said Roberts has earned consideration as a Senate candidate, that he clearly belongs in the pool of prospective candidates should Iowa’s two current Republican members of Congress decide not to run.              

“I’ve always been one who thinks highly of Rod Roberts,” Oman said. “His word is good. He wears well.”                

DougBurnsSpeaking of Oman … The former chief of staff for Ray and Branstad, and 1998 candidate for governor, deserves to be in consideration for the Senate seat as well. Oman’s reach of genuine friendships in Iowa is long. It’s not the usual transactional political stuff. The Des Moines businessman would be strong in a general election should the GOP decide to modernize its voice with a candidate who possesses an expansive worldview. CV

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.

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