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Harkin: 'Religious Right' Scaring Off GOP Candidates Harkin: 'Religious Right' Scaring Off GOP Candidates

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Harkin: 'Religious Right' Scaring Off GOP Candidates

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Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 22, 2013, as lawmakers rush to the Senate floor to vote on amendments to the budget resolution.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, on Thursday shared a "theory" as to why Republicans aren't lining up to run for his soon-to-be open Senate seat. They are intimidated, Harkin said -- and not by the Democratic opposition.

"The religious right and the tea party people in Iowa have so cowed the moderates in the Republican Party that moderate Republicans are afraid to step forward," Harkin told Hotline On Call. "Because they know they'll get creamed in a primary."

Harkin, who spoke enthusiastically of Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, the de facto Democratic nominee, nonetheless said the Iowa GOP has plenty of strong potential candidates capable of beating Braley in November. But he doubts any of them would be acceptable to a party base that, in his view, favors ideological purity over electability.

"There's a lot of solid, moderate Republicans in Iowa that ... could get independents and even some Democrats to vote for them. But I don't see them running," Harkin said. "They might be able to win a general, but they just can't win a primary."

One of those candidates, Harkin said, is Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who announced this week she won't run for Senate. Harkin, who said he has "always liked" Reynolds, said he was surprised -- and relieved -- at her decision.

"Quite frankly, I thought she might be their lone chance," Harkin said. "I was very surprised. ... She would have been a legitimate candidate."

Meanwhile, on Friday, the Iowa Democratic Party launched a website, WhyKingWontRun.com, which they say highlights GOP Rep. Steve King's "history of outrageous statements that will likely prevent him" from running for the Senate.

"Congressman King's outrageous statements over the years have earned him plenty of attention," said Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price, "but he knows that these statements will be impossible to defend in a statewide race."

King told National Journal last week that he is still mulling a Senate bid, and he can see "a path to victory" in polling conducted on his behalf.

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