Taking attendance in Grassley, Judge senate races

Both sides accuse opponent chronic absenteeism

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DES MOINES --- Roll call is being taken in Iowa’s U.S. Senate election race.

The campaigns for Democratic challenger Patty Judge and Republican incumbent Chuck Grassley are trading accusations of chronic absenteeism in their roles as elected and appointed representatives.

Judge’s campaign researched federal records and found Grassley during his current six-year term has attended only roughly a quarter of hearings held by the U.S. Senate budget committee on which he sits.

Grassley’s campaign this past weekend debuted a television ad that alleges Judge missed hundreds of votes during her time in the Iowa Senate and a majority of meetings while she served on the Iowa State Fair Board and Iowa Economic Development Commission.

Grassley is running for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate. Judge is a former state legislator, agriculture secretary and lieutenant governor.

Committee attendance became an issue during Iowa’s 2014 U.S. Senate campaign, when Republicans criticized Democratic candidate Bruce Braley, a Congressman from Eastern Iowa, for his low attendance on a pair of U.S. House committees on which he sat. Braley lost that election to Joni Ernst, a former state legislator who is serving her first term in the U.S. Senate.

Republicans criticized Braley for attending 24 percent of Veterans Affairs committee meetings and 32 percent of oversight committee hearings in the U.S. House, and a campaign ad produced by the national Republican committee for Senate candidates claimed Braley was “not showing up for Iowa.”

The Judge campaign now has turned that same criticism on Grassley, who has attended just 27.4 percent of budget committee meetings in his current term, which started in 2011, according to research of federal records conducted by the Judge campaign and confirmed by the Des Moines Bureau.

“Since Sen. Grassley has an even worse record of attendance at budget committee hearings, we look forward to them issuing a statement that ‘Chuck Grassley isn’t showing up for Iowa,’” the Judge campaign wrote in a memo.

Grassley sits on four committees and is chairman of the judiciary committee. His attendance record for those other committees ranges between 68 percent and 85 percent, according to the Judge campaign. It is only the budget committee for which Grassley has a low attendance rate.

Attendance is important to Grassley; he often touts the fact he has not missed a Senate vote in more than 23 years, casting more than 7,600 consecutive votes. The last time he missed a vote was July 1993 when he was touring flood damage in Iowa with then-President Bill Clinton.

Grassley’s Senate office provided information on 48 budget committee meetings Grassley has missed during this term. The provided reason for Grassley’s absence for 38 of those meetings was another committee meeting or Senate floor activity.

The remainder of his absences for budget committee meetings included meeting with constituents and conducting interviews with Iowa journalists.

“Before she attacks the hardest-working Senator in America, Patty Judge should do her research,” Grassley campaign manager Robert Haus wrote in an email to the Des Moines Bureau. “She hasn’t disputed a single word in our ad, nor has she offered up a single excuse for her own habitual absences. Rather, she attacks Chuck Grassley for not being able to be in two place at once. She can’t even be in one place at once.”

That Grassley campaign ad says Judge missed 182 votes during her six years in the Iowa Senate, three-fourths of meetings as a member of the Iowa State Fair Board, and 69 out of 72 meetings of the Iowa Economic Development Commission while she was a member.

Sam Roecker, who worked on the Braley campaign in 2014 and now works on the Judge campaign, accused Grassley and his campaign of attempting to deflect from Grassley’s “Washington absenteeism and obstruction.”

“Chuck Grassley is running an extremely negative campaign --- for the first time in his career --- because he knows his actions in Washington are indefensible,” Roecker wrote in an email to the Des Moines Bureau. “If he wants to look at state legislative votes, he should mention that in 1974 alone he missed well over 100 floor votes as a member of the Iowa House.”

Some political experts doubt whether voters are moved by allegations of chronic committee absenteeism.

In a story published online Wednesday by Roll Call, strategists from both political parties said attendance attacks rarely land fatal blows.

“The average guy or gal on main street says, ‘Are you kidding? Most of those meetings aren’t worth a tinker’s damn anyway so why would anyone want to go,’” Republican strategist Steve Gordon said in the Roll Call story.

Democratic media consultant J.J. Balaban told Roll Call that members of Congress can deflect attendance attacks by being engaged with their constituents back home.

Grassley, for example, often touts his annual visits to each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“If Incumbent X is known for being present in his or her district, holding town meetings, and delivering some results from Washington, an attack on missing committee votes is likely to fall flat,” Balaban told Roll Call.

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