Tom Harkin and Mike Lane

Knoxville's Mike Lane (left) talks to retired Sen. Tom Harkin during Harkin's Oct. 18 visit to Knoxville. 

Retired U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin visited the Marion County Democrats' headquarters on the Knoxville square Tuesday morning, during which he praised his friend of 25 years, Hillary Clinton, and to encourage activists to get out the vote. 

"The respect that she has, globally, is just phenomenal," Harkin said of Clinton. Since his retirement, Harkin has been working with his namesake institute at Drake University, as well as a new venture, the Harkin Summit, scheduled for Dec. 8-9 in Washington, D.C. The summit will bring together world leaders to discuss the issue of employing those with disabilities. Harkin, one of the architects of the Americans with Disabilities Act, hopes to make it an annual event, and hold it in different countries every year. 

Through his travels for the summit, Harkin has found that many world leaders are nervous about the possible election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He believes that the world's view of America has changed, given some of the rhetoric spread through the campaign thus far. 

"He's made America vile," Harkin said of Trump. According to Harkin, the world was enamored with America not because of our military strength, our bombs or planes. "What impressed them is who we are and what we stand for," Harkin said. 

Harkin believes that this election is the biggest turning point in our country since the Civil War. In his opinion, America has "everything to lose," and believes the election will be a referendum on maintaining a tradition of acceptance and opportunity, regardless of race, gender, etc., or becoming something else. He urged those in the room to "do whatever (they) can" to get Clinton elected. 

"When you start demeaning people, make them feel they don't belong, we tell the world that what we stood for is gone," Harkin said. 

Harkin believes that Trump's campaign has sent a message that "if you're rich enough and boorish enough, you can do anything." He believes Trump's behavior encourages bullying - especially of minorities and women. The rhetoric thus far has scared some immigrants who have earned their citizenship from registering to vote. He called Trump's remaining supporters a "small group of conspiracy nuts" and those who have aided and abetted him for years. 

Meanwhile, Harkin described Clinton as a "wonderful, compassionate, caring person." He encouraged those in attendance to ensure that absentee ballots are returned, encourage early voting and make sure Democrats get to the polls on Election Day. 

"We've got to win this," Harkin said. "I may be retired from the Senate, but I'm not retired from the fight." 

As of noon on Tuesday, the Marion County Auditor's Office reported that 4,975 absentee ballot requests had been received. Of those, 700 had voted at the courthouse. Auditor Jake Grandia would like to remind everyone that his office will be open, and available for early voting, Saturday, Oct. 29, and Saturday, Nov. 5, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 

"Marion County is fired up and ready to go and don't let anybody tell you different," Democratic activist Phyllis Weeks told the crowd, prior to Harkin's remarks. "Absentee ballots are the key factor in this campaign." She added that Democrats win by turning out the early vote and encouraged volunteers to help out at the party's headquarters. 

Steve Woodhouse is the Editor of the Knoxville Journal-Express. He can be reached at

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