Senator Harkin meets and greets

On Monday, Oct. 4, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin stepped up to the microphone in the JRC courtyard. He stopped in Grinnell to drum up support for the Democratic Party with a major focus on incumbent Eric Palmer the Democratic State Representative for District Number 77, which includes Grinnell .

Tom Harkin
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) speaks to members of the Grinnell community in the JRC courtyard on Monday - Sophie Fajardo

Palmer is in a close race against Republican Guy Vander Linden, and Grinnell students may be the deciders in whether Palmer keeps his seat in the Iowa House. In 2008, Palmer was elected with a total of 8,115 votes. The race is expected to be much closer this year, and may be decided by a handful of votes.

“Our goal for this campus is to get Eric Palmer 800 votes,” Harkin said to a crowd of both town citizens and students.

Around 1,000 Grinnell students are eligible to vote, making it possible for students to decide the election.

While Harkin is not up for re-election this year, he spent the rest of his speech speaking about the election season and defending his political message. A champion of the Americans with Disabilities Act and an ally to President Barack Obama, Harkin called out to voters to not sit by and let America be taken over by those who wish to stop “progress.”

“If you’re serious, now is the time when people have to step up,” Harkin said.

In recent months there has been little media coverage about young liberals demonstrating, rallying and in so many words, getting out to show that they do care about the midterm elections. During his speech, Harkin read an excerpt from an interview with Barack Obama in the next issue of Rolling Stone.

According to Harkin, Obama said the U.S. risks losing “an administration that … has been the most successful administration in a generation, in moving progressive agendas forward.”

Harkin believes progressives can best support their cause by voting in this election.

“We need your help now,” he said. “We need you to not walk away and forget and not be there for us this year.”

Harkin dismissed the notion that the average liberal voter is apathetic this year.

“We keep hearing about some intensity gap that somehow the Republicans are more passionate and intense than Democrats,” he said. “I don’t believe that for a minute. They just like to wear it on their sleeves more.”

Grinnell will vote in other close races and initiatives this election. Up for grabs are the Governor’s seat, one U.S. Senate seat and a seat in the U.S. House, in addition to other Iowa and Poweshiek County positions.

Harkin cited facts such as Iowa’s increase in funding for the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), preschool, and alternative energy research as key reasons to vote the current Governor, Democrat Chet Culver, back into office.

He criticized Culver’s opponent, former Governor Terry Branstad, for calling to cut preschool programs in order to save money and signing into law the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Another key issue at stake in Iowa is the right for same-sex couples to wed. Iowa is one of five states in the country which grants marriage licenses to same-sex couples. There is a vote on the current ballot to reconfrim three Supreme Court justices, each of whom voted to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“There’s an effort right now to get rid of Iowa Supreme Court Judges just because they voted against discriminating against people who want to get married,” Harkin said. “I happen to be very proud of the fact that the Iowa Supreme Court stepped in there and said that it is unconstitutional to deny the contract of marriage to two individuals because of their sexual preferences.”

Harkin spoke about the need to “dig in our heels” and, in spite of strong opposition, remember that after the historical turnout in the 2008 election, vast social reform legislation was passed.

“In the face of all this [opposition], we have made the changes that people wanted. We have moved our country forward,” Harkin said. “All of that is at stake this year. If we don’t turn out our votes, and help our candidates this year, we could find ourselves in a position where all of these gains could be returned and a number of things that we still have to do won’t get done.”