116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Caleb McCullough, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Oct. 30, 2022 6:00 am, Updated: Oct. 31, 2022 3:28 pm
This article has been updated to reflect that the latest Iowa Poll found 46 percent support for Chuck Grassley and 43 percent support for Mike Franken. While still reflecting a 3-point difference, an earlier version of the article incorrectly reported the total support for each candidate found in the poll.
Chuck Grassley stood at the front of a large banquet hall at the Iowa State Fairgrounds with a wide smile and a hand ready to shake. He took photos and talked with supporters as they filed in for a fundraiser from his Senate colleague, Republican Joni Ernst.
In his remarks, the Republican skewered President Joe Biden’s policies on energy production, inflation and border security. He briefly noted his Democratic opponent for the U.S. Senate seat, Mike Franken, and said he would be a “rubber stamp” for the Biden administration.
He emphasized his 99-county meetings, a tour of Iowa he conducts every year. It began in 1980 and Ernst and other state politicians have adopted it as well.
“That’s the essence of representative government, to know what’s on your constituents’ minds, and to represent those views in the United States Senate,” he said.
Grassley, 89, is seeking his eighth term in the U.S. Senate. He has enjoyed 20- to 40-point margins over his last six re-election bids, but polling suggests this race may be the closest of his career, with a more polarized electorate and mounting concerns about his age.
As he seeks re-election, Grassley focuses heavily on inflation, energy policy and the increase in encounters and drug seizures at the southern border, mirroring the focus of national Republicans as they attempt to wrest control of the U.S. House and Senate after two years of a Democratic trifecta.
He also emphasizes his seniority in the Senate, pointing to the fact that if Republicans gain control of the Senate, and he is reelected, he again will be president pro tem of the Senate, third in line for the presidency. He expects, if that happens, to again chair the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, giving him broad discretion over Biden’s judicial picks. He says that seniority gives Iowa an outsized influence and helps him deliver for Iowans.
“Iowa will be No. 1 in the United States Senate if I get elected, because I’ll be dean of the United States Senate, and my opponent will be No. 100,” he said in an interview.
Approaching the end of his seventh term, Grassley has been in the Senate for longer than half of Iowans — whose median age is a little over 38 — have been alive. He was first elected to the Iowa House of Representatives at 25 in 1958 and won his first U.S. Senate race against incumbent Democrat John Culver in 1980.
Grassley’s age is a larger factor in this election than it has been in years past. In a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll this month, 60 percent of voters, including 37 percent of Republicans, said Grassley’s age is a concern. That number was high among independents, too, at 64 percent.
Grassley, though, discounts any questions about his age by pointing to his physical health. When he announced his run for re-election, he did so with a Twitter video highlighting his daily 4 a.m., 2-mile run. Last year, he challenged U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., to a push-up contest at a campaign event.
“I go to bed at 9, get up at 4,” Grassley said. “This morning I (ran) 2 miles.”
While some Republicans expressed concern about his age in the poll, many of his supporters don’t see it as a limiting factor.
“I can hear what people say about the term limits and all this, but quite frankly, he’s done a fine job and there’s no one that competes with him, as far as his credibility and his character,” 62-year-old Wes Renken of Johnston said at Ernst’s fundraiser.
The poll found a 3-point gap between Grassley and Franken, suggesting the Democrat is within striking distance of pulling off an upset in the election. Grassley had 46 percent of likely voters’ support compared with Franken’s 43 percent.
Following the poll’s release, prominent elections rating agencies Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved the race from their “safe” or “solid” Republican categories to “likely” Republican.
Early voting has already begun. Election Day is Nov. 8.
Grassley’s campaign bills him as “the original inflation fighter,” and, along with other Republicans this year, he has put tackling inflation at the top of his campaign priorities.
Grassley lays the blame for stubbornly high inflation at the feet of congressional Democrats and the Biden administration. He says the high-dollar packages passed by Democrats, like the American Rescue Plan Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, along with policies he said discouraged oil production, have fueled the record-high cost increases Americans are seeing.
“Reverse the energy policies and stop the spending is what it’s going to take to get inflation down,” he said.
Regardless of where control of the Senate and House falls after the election, Grassley said the congressional solutions to inflation will have to be bipartisan, as they will require buy-in from Biden, a Democrat.
Grassley voted against the Inflation Reduction Act, which supporters say will cut the federal deficit and lower health care costs for seniors. But economic analyses have found the law will have only negligible effects on inflation.
Coming into Congress shortly after Roe v. Wade established the federal right to an abortion, Grassley has supported abortion restrictions throughout his career and, as recently as 2021, co-sponsored a bill that would outlaw abortion nationally at 20 weeks.
Since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe and gave states the ability to restrict and outlaw abortion, Grassley has suggested the decision should be left to the states — but he hasn’t ruled out federal regulation. In a debate against Franken, he said he would vote “no” on a bill proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R- South Carolina, that would ban abortion after 15 weeks.
“For 50 years we’ve been waiting for this to be done by states, and it’s back to the states now, under the Supreme Court decision, and those decisions should be made by the states,” he told reporters after the debate.
As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 2015 to 2019, Grassley was also instrumental in confirming conservative Supreme Court justices that overturned Roe v. Wade and allowed states to regulate abortion.
Grassley and his campaign have made a point to argue that he supports exceptions to abortion restrictions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. He has attempted to portray Franken as extreme on abortion issues. In an ad, Grassley’s campaign argues Franken does not support any limits on abortion rights and supports allowing minors to undergo abortions without parental permission.
Grassley has hoped to convince voters he’s a bipartisan senator who is willing to work with Democrats to achieve positive results.
He has ranked among the top 20 most bipartisan senators over the last four iterations of Congress by the Lugar Center, which ranks members of Congress by bipartisanship. In the center’s lifetime Senate scores, combining data from 1993 to 2018, Grassley placed 14th for bipartisanship.
“That would cover both election years and non-election,” he said. “So that statistic speaks better than anything, and that ought to solve the problem for anybody that says I act differently during an election season than when it’s non-election.”
Grassley was among 19 Republican senators who voted for the national infrastructure law last year, which is expected to bring nearly $5 billion in infrastructure improvements to Iowa.
To support that claim to bipartisanship, Grassley boasts an endorsement from Max Baucus, a former Democratic senator from Montana. Baucus said Grassley worked to find bipartisan solutions when the two traded places chairing the Senate Finance Committee over nearly a decade.
But still, Grassley’s critics have argued he has lost his bipartisan streak in recent years. As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he blocked hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, ahead of the 2016 election. Between 2015 and 2016, as well, a lower proportion of Obama’s nominees to lower courts made it to the bench than the last time the White House and Senate were split under President George W. Bush.
Grassley has also faced criticism for appearing alongside former President Donald Trump, who he criticized in the days following the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. Grassley ultimately voted to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial.
Grassley was endorsed by Trump at a rally in 2021, and he will campaign with the former president again in November.
“He’s going to be able to have hundreds, and probably thousands of Iowans there, and it gives me a chance to speak to those Iowans,” Grassley told reporters. “I don’t take any vote for granted.”
As one of two farmers in the Senate, Grassley frequently talks up his work in agriculture and has earned the endorsements of key agriculture groups in Iowa, including the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
When not in Washington, Grassley lives on his Butler County farm in New Hartford, and he shares the input cost of the farming operation with his son, Robin.
Grassley said he has worked to put limits on how much one farmer can receive in farm subsidies, which he said allows family farmers to better compete with large farming operations that can withstand economic headwinds more easily.
He has also pushed to increase transparency in the cattle market. Grassley has proposed bills to require a portion of cattle to be bought on more open markets and create a special investigator into competition among meatpackers.
“I’m the only farmer in this race, so I think that speaks to the fact that I’m in a good place to represent farmers,” he said.
Grassley has raised more than $10 million this election cycle, about $1 million more than Franken. He began the cycle with a significant campaign account, but Franken has raised more throughout 2022.
Grassley also had $2.1 million in cash on hand by Oct. 20 — the last fundraising period before the election — more than three times what Franken had in the bank.
“The Grassley campaign is in a strong position heading into the final weeks of this campaign,” Grassley’s spokesperson, Michaela Sundermann, said in October. “Sen. Grassley has the momentum, the resources, the war chest, the record, and most importantly the support of Iowans backing his campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate.”