Harkin announced his retirement in January 2013, claiming that his age, 81, was the main reason for his departure. A Democrat with a staunchly liberal voting record, Harkin has been in the Senate since 1985. His positive approval numbers, along with the $2.7 million in his campaign war chest, made news of his retirement an unexpected setback for Democrats.
Harkin has since endorsed Bruce Braley, the current representative for Iowa's First Congressional District and the only Democrat in the race. Running on a platform of restoring the minimum wage and embracing the Affordable Care Act, Braley has become the frontrunner in the election -- November polls show him topping all Republican primary candidates currently in contention.
As if to punctuate his front-runner status, October campaign finance reports have Braley with $2,323,351 cash on hand, more than all the money his Republican rivals have earned combined.
Yet, it's way too early to discount the Republican nominees just yet, as support is currently split between 6 nominees.
The current GOP frontrunner is Matthew Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, who is running on a conservative pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-Obamacare platform. With an October report having him with a sizable $180,824 cash on hand and the highest recognizability of all the GOP candidates, he arguably has the best chance to face off against Braley in the general election.
Running not far behind Matthew Whitaker, however, is Iowa State Senator Joni Ernst, a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, who has run on a similarly strident conservative platform. While not leading Whitaker in the polls, an October report revealed that she has a whopping $224,285 in her war chest. With the primary election more than four months away, Jonie Ernst does have a lot of time to snatch the nomination away from Whitaker.Third in the primary is Mark Jacobs, a former oil executive who currently heads Reaching Higher Iowa, a nonprofit organization meant to improve public education. Jacobs has so far campaigned as a conservative businessman not acquainted with politics. With the announcement that he raised $400,000 last year and the fact that he could always self-finance his campaign, it's probable that Mark Jacobs, while not an immediate frontrunner, will be a significant factor in the primary.
Behind Mark Jacobs is Sam Clovis, a conservative radio talk show host of "Impact with Sam Clovis." His platform is uniformly conservative, one major platform being the creation of a so-called "fair tax."
"The Fair Tax is a national sales tax that taxes consumption, not production," he writes in his website. "I have examined the numbers and am satisfied that this system would provide a robust revenue stream that would incent Members of Congress to ensure that the economy stayed on sound footing. The stronger the economy, the more revenue comes into the federal coffers."
Unfortunately for Clovis, his small war chest of $38,570 is probably going to make it near impossible for him to compete.
Scott Schaben and Paul Lundby, unlike everyone else, have run as moderate Republicans. Schaben, a former car salesman with a history in the Navy, has run on a platform of economic conservatism, but social moderation; his support of gay-marriage is a major departure from the views of his rivals. Lundby, a 77-year-old attorney, criticized both Democrats and Republicans in October for the government shutdown.
Unfortunately for both of them, their low recognizability, minuscule war chests, and low poll numbers indicate that they probably aren't going to have much of an influence in this election.
As if to add uncertainty to the race, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity has already spent $1.8 million on an ad campaign that slams Democrats in Iowa and Michigan, including Braley. With the Iowa Caucus currently underway and the election itself months from now, the race could go either way.