DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Retiring Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin apologized Monday for calling Republican Joni Ernst attractive, but "wrong for the state of Iowa."
Harkin, who has served in the Senate for 30 years and is supporting Democrat Bruce Braley to succeed him, made the remarks at a recent Democratic dinner. Video of the comments was posted on the Buzzfeed website Sunday.
"I don't care if she's as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like (U.S. Rep.) Michele Bachmann, she's wrong for the state of Iowa," Harkin said.
Ernst decried the remark as sexist, saying: "he was talking about me being attractive and I was very offended by that, and again if I had been a male candidate, he wouldn't have made those statements." But referencing a Swift song, Ernst said she would "shake it off."
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Harkin said: "I shouldn't have said those things, I know that. I regret any time someone feels offended by what I have said. I am only human and I can make mistakes sometimes in how I say something. In fact, I have complimented her on running a very good campaign."
Braley's campaign manager Sarah Benzing said in a statement that "Bruce is glad that Senator Harkin made it clear today that he regrets making those comments and that he shouldn't have talked about the race that way."
Ernst, 44, a state lawmaker, and Braley, 57, a four-term congressman, have been locked in a tight race for months. Late polls show conflicting results, with one poll suggesting Ernst had pulled ahead, while several others showed a close matchup. Millions have poured into the state as Republicans drive for the six-seat gain they need to take the Senate.
Both candidates stumped for votes Monday. Ernst greeted voters at a bagel shop in Ankeny as part of a final 24-hour tour through the state, with stops overnight until she votes in her hometown of Red Oak on Tuesday.
Braley toured the state with Harkin on Monday, touting a weekend of aggressive voter outreach. Braley will accompany his mother when she votes in Brooklyn on Tuesday.