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Harkin Readies Q&A

Reversing an earlier decision he made to close the door on late entrants into the presidential contest, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he is trying to organize a “Hear it from the Heartland” event for retired Gen. Wesley Clark (D).

After finishing what was slated to be the last of the nine-part series of question-and-answer forums Sunday evening with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Harkin is now working out a date to host an event in early October for Clark, who didn’t join the race until last week.

Harkin had been unequivocal in the summer that there would be no forums after the end of September, regardless of the decisions by Clark, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) or anyone else who was then considering the race.

“I’m ending these in September,” Harkin told Roll Call in late July. “If they want to run, they can run. But I’m not going to hold any more forums.”

Biden announced in mid-August that he would not seek the nomination.

Harkin added in July that it was “not fair” to the other presidential candidates to let someone get in the race late and benefit from the attention provided by one of his forums. Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) kicked off the “Heartland” forums in April — nine months before Hawkeye State Democrats meet to make their presidential picks.

“It would be unfair to hold one of these any closer to the caucuses,” Harkin said in late July of the Jan. 19, 2004, Iowa caucus, which officially kicks off the presidential campaign.

But Harkin has decided to try to find the time to accommodate Clark, as long as something can be worked out in the next few weeks, which would leave at least three months between Clark’s appearance and the caucus.

“If we can get it in in the early part of October, it wouldn’t pose an unfair advantage,” said Allison Dobson, Harkin’s spokeswoman. “We think it’s possible to open it up in a way that’s fair.”

She said Harkin believes the forums have been a valuable tool, allowing Democratic voters in a small setting in Iowa to ask any question they want of the candidates. “It can get the candidate on the record on a lot of issues,” Dobson said. “It’s a way for the candidate to get unfiltered questions. It’s a good little testing ground.”

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