Accepting the invitation to headline Tom Harkin's steak fry fundraiser, Hillary Clinton made perhaps her most conspicuous move yet toward another presidential bid. But Iowa's longtime Democratic senator says he saw having both Clintons attend the event as simply a fitting way to cap a 37-year tradition.
Sometimes, Harkin said in an interview Monday, he approaches prominent Democrats to speak at his annual fundraiser. More often than not, there is no shortage of ambitious Democrats expressing an interest.
"But this is my last one. I really wanted both Bill and Hillary to come out," he said. "And they were both intrigued by it and supportive."
Harkin, who is retiring at the end of his fifth term in January, said this year's steak fry will "be a shot of adrenaline for Iowa Democrats" ahead of the November election. The election to replace Harkin is emerging as one of the most critical races in the nation in determining which party will control the Senate next year.
With that in mind, Harkin said he expects the former of secretary of state to focus on 2014, not 2016.
"We've got to maintain control of the Senate for all kinds of reasons," Harkin said. "I assume that's going to be her message. But I don't know, like I said, I haven't talked to her about it."
It will be Hillary Clinton's second steak fry, having joined Barack Obama and other candidates for the presidential nomination in 2007. Bill Clinton will be making his fourth appearance. "But this will be the first time together," Harkin said. "So this will be very exciting."
Vice President Joe Biden, who has not ruled out his own 2016 bid, headlined the event last year. His praise then for current Secretary of State John Kerry as "one of the best secretaries of state" in U.S. history was seen as a subtle dig at his would-be rival before an audience of party activists.
Bill Clinton only won the 1996 Iowa caucuses, when he was seeking reelection. Harkin was himself a presidential candidate in 1992. Hillary Clinton finished third in the 2008 caucuses. But Harkin said both will have much to thank Iowans for on their visit.
"Even though Obama came through in that last one, that's OK," he said. "Iowans still love Hillary and Bill both."
This year's steak fry will be Sept. 14 in Indianola.