Key figures in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did everything short of a formal endorsement to communicate this week that they want former Lieutenant Governor and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Patty Judge to be the Democratic nominee against six-term U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.
The DSCC was already known to have recruited Judge for the race, and the committee's executive director released a statement last Friday implying that her nomination is a foregone conclusion ("She will be a formidable challenger to Senator Grassley").
Judge spent the first part of this week in Washington, meeting with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on Monday and having lunch with other Democratic senators yesterday. Tarini Parti reported for Buzzfeed,
Coming out of the meeting, Democrats spoke highly of their latest recruit.
“She seemed down-home, home-spun, real Iowa,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate. “I think she’s going to be a very formidable candidate. She would have been a formidable candidate before the issue of hearings for the Supreme Court, but now even more so.” [...]
“I appreciate the fact she’s doing this,” said Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “Iowa is definitely in play, and I think she’s a great candidate.” [...]
“The combination of her running, plus the president sending over a highly-qualified nominee — I don’t have any idea who or when that might be — will make this a very plain issue and allow us to continue to talk about how important it is for the Senate to do it’s job,” said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Before lunch, Judge spoke with some journalists at the Capitol, including Seung Min Kim of Politico:
The veteran senator is basically political Teflon in the Hawkeye State, but Judge told reporters Tuesday: “I believe that we have a good opportunity to pick up this seat.” [...]
“She did a good job at our caucus,” Reid told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “The thing she said that I thought really was very, very powerful is, she’s the one judge that Sen. Grassley can’t ignore.”
As fortuitous political surnames go, it's hard to top being named "Judge" when your opponent is the first chairman in the history of the Senate Judiciary Committee to refuse even to give a hearing to a Supreme Court nominee--after presiding over the worst year for judicial confirmations in half a century. "I'm the Judge Grassley can't ignore" was the tag line from the moment Judge launched her Senate campaign, and Iowans will hear those words repeatedly before the June 7 primary.
Perhaps New York's own Schumer would not consider me "down-home, home-spun, real Iowa," but I speak for many Democrats who will stick with State Senator Rob Hogg, for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed here and here. Hogg earned my support not by being a fourth-generation Iowan, but because of the issues he has championed throughout his political career.
Hogg won the Iowa Farmers Union's "Friend of Family Farmers" award in 2004, whereas Judge was widely perceived to represent corporate interests as secretary of agriculture. She got a lifetime achievement award from the Iowa Farm Bureau while that group was leading the charge to block important water quality rules. Unlike Judge, Hogg will never speak on behalf of an organization that "smears" people who speak frankly about the downstream effects of farm runoff.
The strong signals from Democratic lawmakers in Washington will help Judge's early fundraising. Before journalists assume a Judge-Grassley match-up is inevitable, they should remember that dozens of current and former Iowa legislators are standing with Hogg.
UPDATE: To be fair, I should point out that Washington Republicans seem to prefer that Grassley not run against Judge. Whether that position is grounded in Iowa polling or a sense that a Judge-Grassley race would create a bad media narrative for them in Senate races generally, we can only guess.
On Monday, a staffer from the National Republican Senatorial Committee e-mailed to me handheld video footage of Judge (shock, horror!) crossing the street in the capital, accompanied by some DSCC staff. "No one else has reported on this video yet," he said, trying to pitch me a story about "the DSCC trying to strong-arm their candidate through this primary," "an establishment vs. grassroots dynamic," and "Judge’s scheduling priorities" (going to Washington before making her case to Iowans).
Judge's trip to DC was no secret, and there's nothing nefarious about a candidate seeking support from party leaders in Congress. I have my own reasons for favoring Hogg in this primary and don't need some GOP hack to put words in my mouth. By the way, Grassley's record on every environmental issue is as bad or worse than Judge's.
Speaking to Iowa reporters on a conference call today, Grassley echoed some of the same talking points against Judge, the Des Moines Register's Jason Noble tweeted.
It kind of sounds to me like there's some Democrat reaction, probably (from people) supporting (state Sen. Rob) Hogg or (former state Sen. Tom) Fiegen, I believe, that kind of resents Washington Democrats pushing a certain candidate onto the Democrat voters of Iowa [...] It's just kind of funny that they're bringing someone to Washington. ... Why would you come to Washington before you go to Washington, Iowa?
According to Noble, Grassley also said,
I don't know why they picked Patty Judge over out another of my opponents, (state) Sen. (Rob) Hogg, because he has 78 legislators on his side. It seems to me he's got the grassroots support and he's been campaigning for the nomination for over a year.
Not quite that long, actually. But I concur that Hogg has substantial support among Iowa Democratic activists.
By the way, Senator Grassley, would it kill you to name-drop those Iowa Democratic blogs you supposedly read on your iPhone?