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Harkin, chairman of Senate HELP panel, won't seek re-election

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin said Saturday he will not seek a sixth term in 2014, a decision that frees a new generation of Iowa Democrats to seek higher office and eases some of the burden Republicans face in retaking the Senate.

Harkin, chairman of the influential Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced his decision during an interview with The Associated Press, and said the move could surprise some.

This past week, Harkin again introduced sweeping aimed at legislation strengthening the nation's public health with provisions that aim to combat chronic disease and encourage healthier lifestyles in schools, businesses and communities. It was the sixth time he has introduced such legislation.The 73-year-old cited his age—he would be 81 at the end of a sixth term— as a factor in the decision, saying it was time to pass the torch he has held for nearly 30 years.

"I just think it's time for me to step aside," Harkin told the AP.

Harkin, first elected in 1984, ranks 7th in seniority, and 4th among majority Democrats. He is also chairman of the largest appropriations subcommittee.

He has long aligned with the Senate's more liberal members, and his signature legislative accomplishment is the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. He also served as a key salesman of President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare bill to the wary left.

"I'm not saying that giving this up and walking away is easy. It's very tough," Harkin said at his rural Iowa home south of Des Moines. "But I'm not quitting today. I'm not passing the torch sitting down."
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