That didn’t take long. A mere seven weeks ago the TV satellite trucks and campaign headquarters packed up and headed out from Iowa following the caucus. As it happens every four years, the national spotlight flickers out on Iowa in the blink of an eye, with all the political staff and reporters that we’ve become friends with vanishing to now more-interesting states. Iowa doesn’t quite turn into a pumpkin, but we’re certainly not a fancy stagecoach anymore.
But guess what? The political gods determined this couldn’t stand for long and have thrust Iowa back into center stage. As is only just and right, of course.
Iowa now boasts two big contests likely to drive national attention back to the Hawkeye state. The first obviously centers around Chuck Grassley, who finds himself in the middle of a national firestorm over his role in blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination. For 30 years Grassley waited and rose in the ranks in the Senate to chair the Judiciary Committee. Now that he’s got it, he’s refusing to carry out his job.
Grassley has shared the national headlines with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as Republicans come under fire from all corners for their obstruction. So far, the national media has mostly stuck its focus on Grassley’s role on this in D.C. But as the court fight draws out, the attention will soon turn to the fallout Grassley is accumulating back home.
With former Lt. Governor Patty Judge getting into the race, the once-sleepy contest now turns into one of the top in the country to watch. Judge isn’t assured to the win the Democratic primary against Rob Hogg, but if she does, the potential headlines will be too tempting for news outlets to resist. Judge has already pressed the motto of her being “the Judge Grassley can’t ignore.”
The second development comes in Western Iowa, as State Senator Rick Bertrand has announced a high-profile primary challenge to firebrand Congressman Steve King. Bertrand has denied that the controversy over King’s endorsement of anti-ethanol Ted Cruz influenced his decision, but that fallout will still have an impact on the race.
While the national media has been slow so far to pick this one up, expect excitement around the campaign to percolate up over the next two and a half months before the June primary. There’s plenty of interesting angles to the story, including whether social conservatives (who should stick with King) still dominate in an age of Trump, if King’s caucus endorsement of Cruz will doom him and whether Iowans are simply sick of King using his position to become a national conservative celebrity. This is the first real opportunity Iowans have of ridding themselves of the unwanted distraction that King brings to the state. It will be a race Iowans will talk about for years.
What makes these developments so notable is that just a few weeks ago the 2016 election in Iowa was shaping up to be a relatively mild affair. Grassley was certain to cruise to reelection, so there’d be no major statewide race outside the presidential to galvanize media attention and activists. Iowa’s next big race wouldn’t be until the 2018 gubernatorial. The Congressional races were coming along, but weren’t that exciting yet.
Those other two Congressional races could heat up and become rather noteworthy on their own. In Iowa’s 1st and 3rd Districts, Democrats have real shots at picking up seats from vulnerable Republican freshmen Rod Blum and David Young. After being reduced to just one federal office after 2014, Democrats could theoretically flip that to a 4-2 advantage in just a year if they pick up the Senate seat and two Congressionals.
The only remaining question seems to be how heavily Clinton and Trump invest in Iowa for the general. Iowa remains a perennial swing state, though with only 6 electoral votes it’s unclear how often the candidates will stump here. And Trump’s investment in the only of the first four states in the primary that rejected him will be interesting to watch. Trump let go his top two Iowa staffers after losing to Cruz. Will he hold a grudge against Iowa in the general and focus on other states?
As we move forward past the presidential primary on both sides, Iowans should be excited that we’ll once again play such a large role in the nation’s future this Fall. And for all the national reporters looking ahead to scheduling flights into DSM, we’re happy to welcome you back. Just don’t eat at Pizza Ranch. They apparently have e coli now.
by Pat Rynard
Photo by Gage Skidmore