Senator Chuck Grassley got the word out yesterday: he won’t endorse any Republican presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses.
“I wouldn’t say anybody’s been aggressive courting it,” he said. He said Mitt Romney visited his office and didn’t ask for his support. “I think (Rick) Santorum did,” he added. Newt Gingrich did ask, he said, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann did not.
Maybe Perry didn’t explicitly ask for Grassley’s endorsement, but the Texas governor dropped a big hint last Friday. Why else would he fly from Pennsylvania to Iowa to headline a fundraiser for State Representative Pat Grassley, the U.S. senator’s grandson? The younger Grassley will face off against fellow Republican Annette Sweeney in the new Iowa House district 50 next June. The Grassley-Sweeney contest will probably be Iowa’s most interesting 2012 primary battle; the district skews so heavily Republican that the primary winner is virtually guaranteed victory in November.
Some politics-watchers view the House district 50 race as a proxy war between Chuck Grassley and Bruce Rastetter, a major GOP donor and kingmaker. The senator presumably wants to help his grandson seek higher office someday. Sweeney is also a rising star, named chair of the Iowa House Agriculture Committee in just her second term as state representative. She grew up attending the same church as Rastetter, who later made a fortune in industrial hog production and ethanol.
Senator Grassley’s impeccable timing wasn’t lost on Kathy Potts, chair of Rick Perry for President in Linn County. Potts tweeted yesterday, “Interesting that @ChuckGrassley did not say he would not endorse anyone until after Gov. Perry did a fund raiser for his grandson.”
Whether Grassley’s endorsement would help a presidential candidate much is another matter. Representative Steve King is hugely popular with the conservative GOP base, but King’s late backing of Fred Thompson didn’t do a lot for that campaign before the 2008 caucuses. Then again, in a crowded field any small advantage could become important. Grassley predicted yesterday that someone may be able to to win the 2012 Iowa caucuses with just 25 percent of the vote. Bob Dole won the caucuses with 26 percent in 1996.
Governor Terry Branstad has previously indicated that he is unlikely to endorse a presidential candidate before the caucuses.