Former senator Tom Harkin of Iowa endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday, lending a prominent liberal name to Clinton’s campaign at a time when liberal challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is surging in the polls and drawing much larger and more enthusiastic crowds than the Democratic front-runner.
“As Democrats, we’re fortunate to have a slate of candidates that are all fine individuals, but we need a fighter who has a record of getting things done and the vision for the future that will build on the progress we’ve made,” Harkin said. “For my wife Ruth and I, that candidate is Hillary Clinton.”
The public backing came in an endorsement letter posted late Thursday on the Web site of the Des Moines Register.
Clinton will be in Iowa on Friday and Saturday. She has made the state a top priority after finishing a disappointing third there when she ran in 2008. Harkin endorsed then-Sen. Barack Obama over Clinton in that race.
Clinton has been comfortably ahead in Iowa since entering the race in April, but her lead over Sanders is shrinking in the state that holds the first-in-the-nation nominating contest. A new CNN/ORC poll this week shows her with 50 percent support to Sanders’ 31 percent. Vice President Biden, who has not decided whether to enter the race, was in third place with 12 percent support.
Sanders has roughly tied with Clinton in New Hampshire, site of the first primary, and a Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll this week showed him edging ahead. There, as in Iowa, Clinton’s support is soft among self-described liberals. The CNN poll showed her with 46 percent of liberals’ support to Sanders’ 41 percent.
Harkin was a leading liberal voice in the Senate for three decades until retiring this year. His annual political fundraiser, called the Harkin Steak Fry, was a must-attend event for Democratic politicians, particularly those considering a run for president.
Clinton attended the last steak fry Harkin held last September, before she announced her intention to run. She was widely assumed to be assembling a campaign, and her visit to Iowa was closely watched. She teased the crowd by opening her remarks with a sing-song “I’m baa-aack.”
Harkin’s support was not assured. He has not always agreed with the centrist, free-trade Democratic politics advanced by former president Bill Clinton and by Hillary Clinton. His endorsement may be a shot in the arm for Clinton, who is also dogged by widening questions about her use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state. The FBI has now taken possession of that server as the government reviews whether classified material may have been compromised.
“I have had the privilege of knowing Hillary Clinton for a long time. She and I share many of the same deeply-held beliefs,” Harkin wrote Thursday. “We believe everyone should be able to find well-paying jobs, that every child should receive the best education possible, that the elderly should be able to retire with dignity and security, and that everyone should have access to quality and affordable healthcare.”
Clinton is campaigning as a champion for the middle class while adopting many positions that would have been considered extremely liberal in elections past, including backing same-sex marriage and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. She has irritated some liberal activists, however, by refusing to take a position on two issues of importance to them: the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the proposed Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership package.
“It was over a year ago that I said that though I was retiring from the Senate, I would not be retiring from the fight for social and economic justice,” Harkin wrote. “That is why today I am proud to endorse my longtime friend and colleague, Hillary Clinton, in her candidacy for president of the United States.”