Conlin "more likely than not" running against Grassley

Prominent attorney Roxanne Conlin spoke to the Des Moines Register on Thursday about a possible Senate bid next year:

“I never thought I’d run again,” Conlin said at her home in Des Moines. “But in my lifetime, I don’t ever want to say, ‘If only I had followed my dream or followed my heart.’ ”

“What has changed for me is Grassley.”

Conlin said she is “more likely than not” running, but first needs to iron out how she would staff a campaign and handle her law practice before making a final decision, which she expects to announce by next month.

She said she talked about running at length with state party chairman Michael Kiernan, who said last month a well-known Democrat was planning to enter the race. “I don’t know how this is going to come together, but I have reached the point where I would like to do it,” she said. […]

Conlin said Grassley’s tone on health care reform at public appearances in Iowa last summer pushed her toward running. […]

Conlin accused Grassley of being disingenuous, noting that he circulated a fundraising brochure stating he was working to defeat “Obama-care,” while continuing to participate in bipartisan negotiations.

“That’s not the Chuck Grassley I thought this state elected, and it really was a watershed moment for me,” Conlin said.

Conlin was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1982, the first year Terry Branstad was elected. Before that, she ran the civil rights division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and was the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Iowa.

She’s been a highly successful plaintiff’s attorney since 1983 and was the first woman president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. In addition,

She founded and was the first chair of the Iowa Women’s Political caucus, and was president and general counsel of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. Most recently, she has been named by the National Law Journal as one of the fifty most influential women lawyers in America, one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America and one of the top 10 litigators.

If Conlin runs, she will be a lightning rod for attacks from Republicans and corporate-funded political organizations. On the plus side, she is a powerful public speaker and may be able to drive up turnout, especially among women voters. She will also be able to raise more than enough money to run a serious campaign against Grassley. Earlier this month, Research 2000 found Grassley leading Conlin by 51 percent to 39 percent among Iowa voters.

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers?

UPDATE: Declared candidates Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause don’t think Conlin will play well outside Polk County:

Krause called the speculation about Conlin being the mystery candidate promised by Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan as political theater.

“It’s easy to play political games in Des Moines that might not play as well around the state,” he said.

A key to defeating Grassley, who has rolled up more than 60 percent of the vote in winning re-election four times, is a candidate who appeals to voters outside Polk County, Iowa State University political scientist Steffen Schmidt said.

“Polk County is a nice place, but you have to have someone who can connect other places,” he said.

The folks in “other places” aren’t all that excited about her, Fiegen said late Thursday while driving home from meeting with Winneshiek County Democrats. A Clarence bankruptcy attorney, he said he’s logged 7,000 miles in the past month meeting with Iowans. Those discussions included rumors either Conlin or former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack might join the race.

“Frankly, they’re not that interested,” he said. While her campaign activity is impressive, “it’s yesterday’s news to many Democrats. People look at her and say, ‘been there, done that,’” a reference to her failed 1982 bid for governor.

“One analogy I heard is that she’s our party’s Doug Gross – rich, intelligent, well-connected, but can’t talk to rural Iowans,” Fiegen said. “People say she’s already proved that.”

In all fairness, Conlin didn’t lose by that much in 1982 (53 percent to 47 percent). During the Senate primary, Krause and Fiegen will need to show their road map for giving Grassley a competitive race. Iowa Democrats will decide who is the best candidate.

  • Her family certainly seems behind her.

    In talking to members of her immediate family, I sensed pride and absolute support.  And the local dem political establishment I’ve spoken to are drooling at a having a real candidate to challenge Grassley.

    As far as the DWI goes? I hope that if it gets out of the gate early in the vetting process, it will turn into a non-starter for Grassley attacks. Excessive drinking is pretty low on the scandal ledger, IMHO. If she can play this into a human foible, I expect she can spin it into something that will pass muster with Iowa voters.

    And in my limited dealings with her in the past, one thing I can say about Roxanne for sure, this woman is a spin doctor, par excellence. And her strength of will seems pretty unbreakable.

  • What do I think?

    I think that if she’s hiring, I’d love to work for her campaign.

  • She jerked me around on a personal leval

    back in 1983. I really would prefer Christie Vilsack, but that is just me.

    • understood

      A strong argument can be made for Christie Vilsack as a candidate. A successful plaintiff’s attorney tends to have more enemies than the first lady.

      • What she did to us was a business decision on her part

        I assume. It did however bankrupt us.

        She almost certainly has enemies because of her successful career too.

        My primary concern is whether or not she would be there for the “little guy”, I have my doubts.

        • the list of "little guys" she has represented

          in lawsuits is probably as long as your arm. I know nothing of your personal circumstances, and she certainly has enemies, though.

          • She did nothing that would stop me

            from voting for her, but that has more to do with my desire to see Grassley come home.

  • DWI is a Non-Issue

    The DWI happened in 1991.  Conlin has been completely sober since then.  She’s also accomplished an incredible amount in the last two decades.  I don’t foresee the DWI being a deal breaker for voters.  

  • Sounds like Roxanne has a lot of baggage...

    But if she enters the race it’s bound to shine a light on the Dem candidates in general.  We’ll need that as we compete against the Chuckster.  

  • re; Non payment of taxes

    Des Moines Dem, can you expound on the “supposed non-payment of taxes will come back” comment?  My recollection is that she got hammered due to her stance that the Republicans were the party of privilege which included comments about tax shelters.  Later it came out that she and her husband used tax shelters themselves to avoid virtually any Iowa taxes.

    • my recollection is different

      I don’t remember the details precisely, but Conlin’s husband works in real estate, a field where incomes fluctuate greatly from year to year. They had a high-income year (paying high income taxes), followed by a low-income year. I think the low income year was 1981, when Roxanne’s time as U.S. attorney finished. Her tax return in 1982 showed minimal payment of income taxes compared to the previous year. Yepsen said that was because she and her husband used tax shelters. Conlin said it was because their joint income was lower.

      If she runs, I’m sure the Register will rehash all of the details, and we’ll find out whose memory is accurate. I’m sure all of her tax returns for the last 29 years will be scrutinized–if she’s not ready for that, she shouldn’t be running.

      One thing we can all agree on is that Branstad bashed Conlin endlessly on taxes and then, right after he took office in January 1983, asked the legislature to raise the sales tax.

  • I was hoping for a Vilsack

    ….but lets be honest.  No one has great odds of beating Grassley.  This is HUGE because she will pour millions of dollars into a campaign that will lift Dem turnout….good for everyone.  Plus she is woman, which will help too.  If she actually pulls it off it’ll be the biggest upset in Iowa political history…  Not many long term Senators go from getting 70% to losing.  Its also huge because she’d be the first federal woman from Iowa… ever.  At the very least her millions would take quite a bit of shine off Grassley and garner national attention for the race.  For this reason alone I would happily support her and work for her.

    P.S. I’d LOVE to see Obama come back to Iowa to campaign against Grassley, he should have the proper motivation having seen firsthand how Grassley tried to slow-walk and derail healthcare.  He knows he’ll do the same with climate change, EFCA, bank regulation, immigration and on and on.  

    • BJazz is Right

      Grassley is the most vulnerable he’s ever been.  

      For every reason BJazz lists above, Roxanne’s future run against Grassley will be exciting, energizing, and inspiring for the entire party.  

      Roxanne is a winner (sans her gubanatorial loss 20+ years ago).  She has achieved countless victories, via the courtroom, resulting in more equitable and tolerable treatment of women and other minorities.  Her Microsoft litigation yielded millions of dollars for local schools.

      Most importantly, just as BJazz says, the fact that Conlin would be Iowa’s very first female congressperson (should she be elected) would be profoundly historical.  Her historic race has the potential to galvanize the national party to support Iowa’s progressive movement.

      Needless to say, I’m pumped.  🙂

  • over before it starts........

    while Grassley poll numbers may be down slightly, the combination of the tax situation and the Pierce situation are enough to assure Conlin of an unsucessful campaign.

    Even with that said, Conlin has had a terrific career in the plaintiff attorney field…at this point she runs the risk of tarnishing her legacy after what is sure to be a brutal campaign.

    • The more I know about Conlin, the less I like

      It seems that Conlin has a LOT of skeletons in her closet, as I imagine most trial lawyers do.

      I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Matt Strawn et. al. take a page from the ‘ol Lee Atwater handbook and make Pierre Pierce her running mate. They will if they’re smart, anyway.

      But, I don’t think all is lost. Grassley’s still got a lot of rope with which to hang himself. But he has to be breathing a sigh of relief that his opponent looks like Conlin and not Christie Vilsack.

      • they will go through her client list

        with a fine-toothed comb to highlight anything embarrassing.

        If she’s not prepared for that level of scrutiny, she shouldn’t be thinking about running.  

      • by the same token

        There’s a lot you probably don’t know about Conlin that would probably make you like her better. For example, she worked on a lot of important civil rights issues in the Iowa AG’s office.  

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