The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee recruited former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge to run against Senator Chuck Grassley, praised her as a "formidable challenger" the day she launched her campaign, and invited her to lunch with Democratic senators in Washington a few days later. So it was no surprise when the DSCC made its support for Judge official on April 20.
Judge's campaign has touted endorsements from influential Iowa Democrats but didn't spread the word about the DSCC's announcement this week--probably because backing from Washington insiders feeds into talking points Republicans and Democratic rivals have already been using.
Senator Jon Tester of Montana said in the DSCC's April 20 press release,
Patty Judge is a farmer, a nurse, and a terrific public servant who is a proven leader for Iowa's middle-class families. Patty has spent her career working for Iowa and will continue that work in the United States Senate. Iowans are frustrated that Senate Republicans refuse to do their jobs on the Supreme Court nomination and want a senator that [sic] will put their interests first--Patty will be that senator. The DSCC is proud to support Patty Judge in this campaign.
Instead, various campaign press releases, e-mail blasts, and social media posts have emphasized grassroots support that helped Judge raise about $215,000 "from 5,000 individual donors" in less than a month. (Nearly a quarter of the dollar amount came from leadership PACs affiliated with ten Democratic senators, listed here by the Des Moines Register's Jason Noble.)
Speaking to Noble for his story in the Register, the three other Democrats seeking the U.S. Senate nomination spun the DSCC endorsement in a negative way:
“She wants to walk in as the anointed queen from Washington, D.C., and that is a terrible mistake,” [Bob] Krause said. “If we allow the DSCC do this, we might as well go ahead and abolish the primaries and let D.C. pick our candidates. It’s not a good move in year where the outsider politics plays a lot better than insider politics.” [...]
“This is all (New York Sen.) Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats attempting to play in this race,” [Tom] Fiegen said. “But I don’t think they have a good sense of the Iowa people.” [...]
“It is not a surprise, and I don't think Iowans will care much about this D.C. endorsement,” [Rob] Hogg said. “I am focused on meeting Iowans and building hope that we can change the way we do politics and make Congress work again for our people, our country and our future.”
Those assessments are tame compared to the way Iowa and DC-based Republicans have been trying to make the Washington label stick to Judge. Immediately after Judge launched her campaign, the National Republican Senatorial Committee started pushing a narrative about her allegedly close ties to Washington insiders--which is comical, since Grassley has been a Washington insider for more than 40 years now. Not only that, Representative David Young of Iowa's third Congressional district has worked in Congress for most of his adult life, including a long stint as Grassley's chief of staff.
Remember Bruce Braley? The once-upon-a-time Democrat rising star who was favored to win the 2014 Iowa senate race until he was caught on video condescendingly referring to Sen. Chuck Grassley as a “farmer from Iowa” who “never went to law school”? You probably haven’t heard much about him since he lost badly and was named the “worst candidate of the 2014 election” by The Washington Post.
Well, Washington Democrats have a new favorite Iowan, and it’s former Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, voted out in 2010 amid rising unemployment, ballooning state debt, and sweeping corruption scandals across state government during her time in office.
Now Judge, naturally, could be expected to learn from Braley’s mistakes and avoid the D.C. insider image that played into Braley’s dowfall, right?
Wrong. Judge’s first act as an official candidate was to fly straight to Washington for a closed-door lunch with Party bosses like Sens. Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid.
The Republican Party of Iowa has been beating the same drum. From a March 10 press release:
Patty Judge Goes To Washington
Patty Judge kicked off her campaign with a loud and clear message to Iowa families: she doesn’t care what you have to say.
That’s because her first order of business as a candidate for Senate was jetting off to Washington, D.C. and sitting down with party boss Harry Reid.
“It couldn’t be more obvious that Patty Judge is a product of Washington,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann. “Instead of talking to Iowa families, Judge made it a top priority get her marching orders from the Washington insiders who recruited her into this race.” [...]
Judge’s campaign is already off to a dismal start. Her disregard for Iowa families, and Washington’s attempts to strong-arm her through the Democrat primary, send a clear message that Patty Judge is just another out-of-touch politician.
How ludicrous to portray Judge, a member of the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame, as a "product of Washington." Not only has she lived her whole life in this state, she served in the Iowa legislature and was elected to statewide office three times--twice as secretary of agriculture and once as lieutenant governor.
This month, Republicans have been bashing Judge for supposedly not holding enough events around the state. From an NRSC press release of April 4:
The number of months Patty Judge has been running for Senate = the number of times Patty Judge has been seen in Iowa.
It’s been one month since Patty Judge announced her Washington-backed Senate campaign (in a story first leaked to the New York Times, no less). And what a month it’s been. Judge has been barnstorming across Iowa, talking to voters and articulating her position on issue after…no, that’s not right.
In fact, Judge has barely registered a blip on the radar since her vaunted campaign rollout. Other than completing the Full Patty during week one, Judge has barely been spotted. In one month, Judge has been seen in Iowa exactly one time.
An Iowa GOP press release echoed that message on April 5:
The Curious Case of the Missing Candidate: RPI Chairman Calls for Judge to Release Her Schedule
DES MOINES -- Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann today called on U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge to release her schedule since her announcement on March 4.
"People would like to know where she's been. Her absence is more than curious, it's unprecedented for the supposed front-runner for a major party nomination to up and vanish like she has," Kaufmann said. "The watchdogs in the Iowa media certainly should be asking questions because the public has a right to know."
Kaufmann said Judge, who apparently hasn't made a public appearance in Iowa since the March 12 Democratic county convention in Davenport, owes Iowans an explanation.
"With the primary election exactly nine weeks ahead, it is time for Patty Judge to show up and start answering questions. I am calling on her to release her schedule of campaign-related events -- both in Iowa and out-of-state -- for the past four weeks," Kaufmann said.
Judge has since held at least a couple of public events (in Ottumwa on April 9 and in Ankeny on April 18). While some may find fault with her tactics, a less-crowded schedule is hardly proof that a candidate is beholden to Washington. Still, the Iowa GOP tried to make that connection in its April 21 reaction to the DSCC endorsement:
DES MOINES – It comes as no surprise that yesterday, the Washington Elites of the Democratic Party endorsed Patty Judge for U.S. Senate. Since the time she announced she is running for office, Judge has spent more time trying to earn the approval and campaign cash of Democratic Party bosses inside the DC beltway and little to no time talking with Iowans about the issues.
Chairman Jeff Kaufmann had this to say: “This election cycle, we have watched as the Democratic candidates running for office have sprinted further and further to the left. Inside the Beltway, Hogg wasn't extreme enough for them; as a result they resurrected a failed politician. We are ready for whomever the Democrats send our way. Iowans saw what happened to the last DSCC rubberstamped candidate--Bruce Braley.”
This video doesn't appear to be slated to run on television (it's 45-seconds long instead of the usual 30), but Republicans are likely to reprise its themes in paid advertising if Judge becomes the Democratic nominee. My transcript:
Male voice-over: This is Patty Judge. [footage of Judge on Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press" program, photo of Judge at an Iowa Democratic Party event]
Since she announced her campaign last month, we haven't seen much of her here in Iowa. [footage of Iowa countryside taken from fast-moving vehicle]
You know where we have seen her? [image of map zeroing in on Washington, DC]
Footage of Judge with an unidentified female television host, who says "spends a lot more time in Washington, DC" [context of clip unclear]
Male voice-over: Washington, DC, with Harry Reid [footage from a video the NRSC shopped to me, showing Judge walking with DSCC staff in Washington]
at big-money fundraisers. [stock footage of someone pouring wine into a glass]
You know, all the hot spots with liberal insiders. [more footage from the video NRSC staff shot during Judge's visit to Washington in March]
When running for office, some people do 99-county tours to listen to real Iowans. [footage of Senator Chuck Grassley at various Iowa events]
Patty Judge? She runs straight to DC [more footage from that NRSC video]
to hear from Obama and Reid on how to implement their Washington agenda. [split screen footage of President Barack Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid; footage of Obama giving a speech]
Iowans already rejected Patty Judge once. [footage of Judge]
What do Patty Judge and Iowa voters have in common? Neither of them want Patty Judge in Iowa. [photo of Judge with words on screen: "What do Patty Judge and Iowa voters have in common? Neither of them want Patty Judge in Iowa" and paid-for message by NRSC]
I'm voting for Hogg for reasons discussed here and here, but let me be clear: the DSCC's choice of candidate is not an argument against Judge anymore than the NRSC's support for Grassley is a credible reason not to vote for the incumbent. The DSCC has backed some great Democratic candidates and some not-so-great ones.
Washington strategists did recruit Judge to run for Senate. But how they evaluate her doesn't change who she is or her decades-long record of public service to Iowans.
If anything, the firepower Republicans have directed toward Judge is an argument in her favor: the other side would prefer not to see her name on the ballot next to Grassley's. Judge's campaign has been taking that message to Iowa Democrats, as in this fundraising e-mail blast of April 20 (emphasis in original):
National Republicans are getting very nervous about Chuck Grassley’s reelection. They are out with a new ad attacking Patty because they know she has a real shot at defeating Grassley.
Help us fight back right away. Pitch in $5 to our Rapid Response Fund.
Let’s break it down:
First, Chuck Grassley announces an unprecedented campaign of obstruction to block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice.
Then, supporters like you step up in a big way to support Patty Judge.
Now, National Republicans attack Patty, and Grassley announces he’s skipping the Republican convention so he can campaign in Iowa (he’s never skipped one before, ever).
Our growing campaign is putting the heat on Grassley, but we need to keep it up. We can’t let these new attacks go unanswered. Let’s send a strong message that we’re ALL IN for Patty.
Make a contribution right now and keep the pressure on Grassley!
Any comments about the Senate race are welcome in this thread.
P.S.--I noticed today that NRSC Deputy Communications Director Greg Blair included my reference to him in his short Twitter bio:
In retrospect, perhaps it was a bit harsh for me to write about "some GOP hack" after Blair tried to get me interested in a none-too-incriminating video of Judge. The NRSC staffer was just doing his job--unlike Senator Grassley.