Chuck Grassley is getting the full-court treatment in Iowa as Democrats and others try to pressure the Republican about his refusal to hold a hearing for President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.
Grassley, a fulcrum in the nomination battle, is getting hounded by opponents bent on tracking down his whereabouts this week over the congressional recess. They hope to launch impromptu protests and put as much political pressure as they can on the longtime Iowa lawmaker.
It’s all part of an effort by Democrats statewide and nationally to persuade Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to change his mind about holding a hearing on Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee.
The Iowa Democratic Party puts out almost daily press releases targeting Grassley, including a recent “do your job” blitz on digital media.
Progress Iowa has even established a “Where is Chuck?” hotline, asking people to help track Grassley’s movements this week in Iowa.
Additionally, four Democrats are vying for their party’s Senate nomination, including former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who jumped in earlier this month and has said she plans to make the hearing issue a key point in her campaign.
After Justice Antonin Scalia died in mid-February, Grassley and other Republicans quickly said they would refuse to hold a hearing on any Obama nominee. They argued that Obama is essentially a lame-duck president and that the November presidential election should determine who will choose the next Supreme Court justice.
It is debatable whether the Supreme Court issue is having an impact on Grassley or his bid for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate.
Several political consultants argued that the judicial nomination fracas resonates more in Washington, D.C., than it does in America’s heartland.
The issue can be used to raise money, recruit candidates and fire up a political party’s base, but it has little impact on typical voters focused on meat-and-potato concerns, said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor with the Cook Political Report who monitors Senate races.
“This is an issue that fires up the base — and the Republican base is pretty happy with Grassley right now,” Duffy said. “He’s doing what they think is the right thing.”
Larry Sabato, a political scientist with the University of Virginia, agreed that the Supreme Court battle alone is not enough to hurt Grassley’s re-election prospects in November. But Sabato argued that the Democrats’ overall effort to tie Grassley to the “toxicity” of the national Republican presidential contest and to the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill could hurt Grassley in the long run.
Iowa is a swing state, Sabato noted, and both of the GOP’s current presidential front-runners — Ted Cruz and Donald Trump — are divisive figures who have the ability to create a “downdraft” on the ticket, hurting Republicans listed below them on a general election ballot.
“Even though he’s been very popular for a long time, he’s got to worry about a downdraft,” Sabato said of Grassley. “He’s got to worry about a whirlpool effect from the top of the ticket.”
Sabato added: “I would bet on Grassley today. You have to — look at his record. But I would tell you, I think some very funky things are going to happen in November, and most of the funkiness will be aimed at the Republicans.”
As for Grassley, his camp is quick to note that the 82-year-old has outperformed Republicans at the top of the ticket before, including racking up more votes in Iowa in the 1980 election than Ronald Reagan, the former president who is a GOP icon.
They also note that Grassley enjoyed a 57 percent approval rating in a Des Moines Register poll taken eight to 11 days after Scalia died on Feb. 13.
Sam Lau, a spokesman for the Iowa Democratic Party, counters that a more recent poll shows that Grassley has been hurt by the controversy. He also argued that other polls show a majority of Americans believe the Senate should hold a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee this year. (However, there also are polls showing that Americans appear divided on the question of whether there should be a Senate vote this year on a nominee.)
The Grassley poll Lau referenced was taken March 1-2 by Public Policy Polling, which surveyed 574 Iowa voters. It showed Grassley’s favorability rating at 47 percent and unfavorability rating at 44 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Lau suggested that Grassley’s approval rating would continue to decline over time as more people come to realize the pure “partisanship” motive behind his refusal to hold a hearing.
“Chuck Grassley has always tried to portray himself as someone above partisanship, that he was always for Iowans first,” Lau said. “This strikes at the heart of that.”
He also argued that Grassley must be feeling the heat because he scheduled only three town hall meetings in the upper northwest corner of Iowa, one of the state’s staunchest conservative regions. “He’s barely holding any public events during a two-week recess,” Lau said.
Beth Levine, a Grassley spokeswoman, said that Lau was simply wrong. She said Grassley typically holds only three to seven town hall meetings during a recess.
She also said that Grassley plans to hold an additional 16 gatherings across the state at public schools, workplaces and service clubs. She declined to make that list public, saying it would be unfair to the people who wish to attend and who want to ask their senator a question if the event is taken over by protesters.
“Political operatives (from Washington, D.C.) are trying to hijack Sen. Grassley’s meetings with Iowans, and it’s more proof that they care more about politics than giving people a voice,” Levine said.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1309, email@example.com