Only a few weeks ago Democrats’ dreams of up-ending Chuck Grassley in his reelection campaign was just that: a hopeful, unrealistic dream. But now Grassley finds himself in the middle of the national firestorm over the looming Supreme Court nomination battle that promises to paint him as an obstructionist and extremist to Iowa voters.
Today the other shoe dropped with word that Patty Judge plans on launching a bid tomorrow for the U.S. Senate seat. Democrats now have a candidate who could legitimately beat Grassley in November.
Let’s be clear: defeating the six-term Senator is still a monumental challenge. But he’s facing some serious headwinds this year that clearly makes him more vulnerable than ever before. Grassley’s been forced by the most conservative elements in his party to hold up at all costs Obama’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court Justice for nearly an entire year. Gone will be his image of an independent, public service-oriented Senator. He’ll be constantly hounded every single day from now to the election if he obstructs the process that long.
Obama may really put the screws to Grassley too if he so chooses. Reports out this week indicated that 8th Circuit Court Appellate Judge Jane Kelly of Iowa is being vetted by the White House. How on earth would it look for Grassley to hold up a highly qualified woman from Cedar Rapids who Grassley himself praised just three years ago? Especially in a year where women will be motivated to turn out for the potential first female president, along with the even larger gender gap that will be caused by Donald Trump? And hey, what do you know, there might now be a woman on the ballot opposite Grassley.
Also, unlike Grassley’s past two opponents, Judge can actually stack up against Grassley on his own turf. In 2004 Grassley faced Art Small, an underfunded though accomplished attorney and former state legislator from Iowa City. In 2010 his opponent was Roxanne Conlin, an attorney from Des Moines. Both were handily defeated.
With Judge’s background as a former Secretary of Agriculture who hails from rural Monroe County where she and her husband own a farm, she could go toe-to-toe with Grassley on who could better represent rural Iowa. Her other statewide role as the Lt. Governor for four years will start her off with very high name recognition throughout the state that won’t have to be built up through expensive ads.
She’ll likely be able to raise a lot of money too, as her credibility as a candidate could mean national money pours into Iowa. She could get extra assistance from national groups that want to press Grassley on the nomination hearing… which is essentially every single progressive issue group in the country.
There’s still the matter of the Democratic primary. State Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids has been running a competent campaign and has garnered many endorsements so far. But that’s when it was just him against Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen, the two also-rans from the 2010 primary. Hogg’s a good candidate, but doesn’t start with anywhere near the same amount of name recognition or potential excitement as Judge. There could be movement within the Democratic Party to clear the way for Judge. Grassley easily defeated attorneys from Des Moines and Iowa City. Would an attorney from Cedar Rapids fare any better?
John Deeth is probably right in pointing out how significant the rollout of Judge’s intentions in the New York Times is. It’s a sign national Democrats want this race seriously contested. This otherwise sleepy campaign for Grassley’s seventh term has now turned into a key race with massive national implications, including beyond just who wins the seat.
by Pat Rynard