LOS ANGELES — IOWA Sen. Tom Harkin (D) is working in California on his plan to convert his support from handicapped groups into a successful presidential campaign appealing to the 43 million Americans with disabilities. Senator Harkin hopes his sponsorship of the recently enacted Americans with Disabilities Act will give him a ready-made grass-roots organization if he decides to seek the Democratic nomination.
"I think if I can get the nomination I can beat George Bush," he says. "His support is paper thin, a mile wide, and an inch deep."
But it is getting the Democratic nomination that he is currently exploring.
As a two-term US senator from Iowa, Harkin stands to do very well in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. He has been to New Hampshire to try to build an organization there. Now he is branching out to California, the largest block of votes in the country.
Harkin says appealing to the disabled will not require a lot of expensive programs that will alienate him from taxpayers.
"It is a mistake to take a paternalistic attitude toward the disabled," he said. "We just need to break down the barriers."
The senator estimates that 43 million Americans have some kind of disability. Along with family members and friends, that group could provide him with a solid voter base.