CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus won't derail 99-county tour, Grassley pledges

Iowa senator plans to resume in-person meetings later this year

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arrives for a Republican policy lunch March 20 on Capitol Hill in Washington. The senator s
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, arrives for a Republican policy lunch March 20 on Capitol Hill in Washington. The senator says he plans to complete his annual 99-county tour of Iowa this year despite the coronavirus pandemic. (Associated Press)

The novel coronavirus has upended the way of life across this country and around the globe. Nothing, it seems, is immune from the virus’ impact as everyone takes steps to limit its destruction.

The political world is no different, including in Iowa. The Legislature is shut down until further notice. Candidates running in competitive races for federal office are trying to campaign without being able to hold events and raise money at a time when unemployment has skyrocketed. Political parties are holding their crucial conventions remotely because they cannot gather en masse.

But there is one tradition in Iowa politics that its creator hopes will survive the pandemic: the Full Grassley.

Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, for the entirety of his 40-year career in the U.S. Senate, has visited each of the state’s 99 counties annually. Former Des Moines Register reporter Jason Noble dubbed the feat “The Full Grassley,” and other Iowa elected officials — including U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst and former Gov. Terry Branstad — have replicated it as a means of grassroots governance.

And while the coronavirus pandemic has thrown Grassley’s 99-county tour off schedule — in Iowa, gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited — that has not stopped the senator from planning to complete his annual tour.

Grassley’s spokesman said the Republican senator still plans to visit all 99 counties this year in person — once the virus is contained and while still observing any required or recommended social distancing measures.

“Sen. Grassley has met with Iowans for an hour-long Q&A in each of Iowa’s 99 counties every year since he was first elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. Despite the ongoing pandemic, Sen. Grassley plans to complete his annual 99 county meetings for the 40th year in a row later this year,” Grassley spokesman Michael Zona said in response to questions via email.

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Any meetings on Grassley’s tour will abide by any public health measures in place to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance, Zona said. But they will be held in-person, with Grassley on-site.

“Despite the logistical challenges, Sen. Grassley expects to hold in-person Q&As with Iowans in all 99 counties when the COVID-19 crisis is contained,” Zona said. “All meetings will be held in accordance with state and federal public health guidelines. The health and safety of Iowans will be the No. 1 consideration at every county meeting.”

In the meantime, Grassley will continue communicating with Iowans by phone and working on their behalf remotely, Zona said.

But when the time comes, the Full Grassley has not been canceled by the coronavirus, it would appear.

Republicans answer Dems’ online fundraising

Republicans have created a counter to Democrats’ successful online fundraising mechanism, and Iowa Republicans hope to use the new tool to boost their Statehouse candidates.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, which works to help GOP candidates in state and local elections, this past week announced a partnership with WinRed, an online fundraising platform designed to counter Democrats’ ActBlue program.

All Republican candidates will be able to take advantage of WinRed, the RSLC said. Candidates will be able to benefit from digital fundraising, data analytics, access to donor networks and more, the RSLC said.

“WinRed will provide an invaluable opportunity to elevate Republican campaigns higher than ever before,” Jack Whitver, the Republican Iowa Senate president from Ankeny, said in a news release. “Through this new platform, candidates are able to connect to rising stars in our party and share success at every level. I look forward to WinRed helping Republicans win for years to come.”

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.