Rep. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), 44, who electorally retired Sen. Roger W. Jepsen (R-Iowa), is a liberal from a bedrock conservative district in western Iowa.

But Harkin's activism on farm issues of prime interest to a district dotted with grain elevators in the middle of America's breadbasket has more than offset his clearly liberal stands on social issues and war and peace.

"I always said that you take care of your own back yard first," Harkin said during the campaign.

Those on Harkin's staff prefer to call him a populist rather than a liberal. They point to his strong farm-issues record and say that his stands in favor of a nuclear-weapons freeze and cuts in military spending went over well in conservative Iowa.

Harkin spent 15 months trekking through the state's small towns, preaching the same political sermon -- that Agriculture Secretary John R. Block, budget director David A. Stockman and Jepsen were hurting farmers.

His strategy worked. He managed to hold onto his farm-vote base while appealing to enough of the upscale, normally GOP vote in the cities.

Although Jepsen hammered at Harkin's liberal record, it was Harkin who put Jepsen on the defensive by charging that the senator was at least partly responsible for the high interest rates that have depressed the already poor farm economy.

The abrasive manner that left Harkin sometimes ineffective in House debate worked to his advantage in this contest, where he seemed to relish a mudslinging, name-calling campaign.

The Associated Press quoted Iowa Democratic Chairman Ed Campbell yesterday as saying, "Roger Jepsen picked the wrong man to get into a fight with."

Harkin was first elected to Congress in 1974 after working on the staff of Rep. Neal Smith (D-Iowa).

He is married to Ruth Raduenz Harkin and is the father of two daughters