Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Race of the Day- Iowa U.S. Senate

82 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (Midwest)

Outlook: Likely Republican

Chuck Grassley, the Republican Chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has continuously held office, without an electoral defeat, since the election of 1958. After a long stint as a state legislator, he arrived on Capital Hill as a Congressman in 1975 and moved up to become one of Iowa's Senators six years later. Now, as he is about to turn 83 years old, Grassley is still quite physically active and has taken as well to Twitter, with a somewhat unique online style. Known for a strong constituent service outlook and for visiting all of Iowa's counties on a yearly basis, he has also not had anything approaching a close race in decades. This year, Grassley is facing his strongest test yet, but it would be far too premature to declare he is at great risk.

While several politicians of both parties were perhaps hoping for a retirement announcement, including his own State Representative grandson, Grassley, clearly happy to be back in the Senate Majority and leading the Judiciary Committee made it clear he would be seeking another term. Democrats knew he would be tough to beat and it looked like their primary, between some very liberal candidates, would be mostly an exhibition for the right to lose to Grassley. Things changed a bit early in the year, when conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly. Barack Obama exercised his right to nominate a replacement, but Grassley, along with other Senate Republicans declared that the Judiciary Committee would take no action to Judge Merrick Garland, until the next President was elected months later.

That line in the sand set forth a partisan political firestorm over a lifetime appointment to the Highest Court, and who would have the right to name that person. Democrats believed they could generate public support to their side and that Grassley could be harmed at home for stubbornness or obstruction.  A late entrant to the Senate Democrat primary emerged in the person of Patty Judge. In her early 70s herself, Judge (perhaps an ironic name), did not fit the traditional profile for a freshman Senate aspirant, but had served four years as Iowa's Lt. Governor, before her ticket was voted out of office in 2010, and had been elected in her own right statewide before that, as Agriculture Secretary.

Judge immediately became seen as the frontrunner for the nomination, but not overwhelmingly so, as other candidates had been running for months, and had followings in the left-wing grassroots. In a four way June primary, Judge was victorious, but with just under 48 percent of the vote. Her closest competitor, State Senator Rob Hogg (which sounds like a good name for an Iowa politico) was about nine points behind.

Since the primaries, polls have shown Grassley with a clear lead over Judge, but not by overwhelming margins, and to the extent where Democrats feel like they might have some hope. Indeed if things turn into an unmitigated disaster for the GOP this year, Grassley could be at risk, but he has such an institution in Iowa, that he might be secure. This is in spite the fact that Grassley's type of Main Street old school Republicanism might be falling out of favor in a swing state where both parties are moving increasingly to the edges. I also think someone younger and more of a political outsider would have been a stronger challenger to Grassley under these circumstances, than Judge.

It is worth nothing that Grassley has seemed more comfortable with the candidacy of Donald Trump, than many other GOP Senators. It came as a surprise right before the Iowa Caucuses, when Grassley seemed surprisingly open to Trump winning the first contest of the cycle. While that did not happen there, it is clear that Grassley was speaking for many in the Senate in regards to their distaste over his freshman Senator colleague Ted Cruz of Texas, and the potential he might become the GOP nominee. I do  not think Grassley and some others actually thought at the time that Trump might actually survive all the way to the nomination. They ought to feel bad about that now.

Since Trump has become the nominee though, Grassley has appeared to be a soldier for the party and has offered some excuses and defenses of Trump, and has introduced him at rallies. I do not think this is going to help Grassley in his own race, even as polls now show that Trump actually does better in Iowa, a state Republicans rarely win on the Presidential level, than in most other battleground places.

When all is said and done, I am pretty sure Donald Trump will have lost Iowa, but Chuck Grassley will have won another term. In large part due to Trump, Grassley may no longer be Chairman of the Judiciary Committee though, and the entire Senate GOP Leadership may regret not moving forward on Judge Garland, after it was clear that Trump was a certain loser, because Obama or Hillary Clinton will probably find a way to pull the Garland nomination and put up someone even more liberal..

Grassley campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far: 5 D (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans), 9 R (3 Safe, 3 Likely, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup) 

Overall predicted thus far: 41 D, 39 R


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