At the start of every election cycle, there’s broad agreement about which races are likely to matter most. Months before voters even think about casting ballots, it’s usually pretty easy to tell which races will be nail-biters, which will be landslides, and which will be somewhere in between.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), for example, was seen as such a lock for re-election, I’d actually forgotten he was up this year. The Republican incumbent has an amazing electoral track record – since getting elected to the Senate 36 years ago, Grassley won his closest race by 31 points – and Democrats who bother to challenge him are generally seen as sacrificial lambs.
But in so many ways, 2016 is turning out to be a year of unexpected developments. The New York Times reported yesterday that, all of a sudden, a “formidable Democratic challenger” is ready to take on Grassley.
Patty Judge, a former Iowa lieutenant governor and state agriculture secretary, is expected to announce her challenge this weekend to Mr. Grassley, who is seeking a seventh Senate term and had previously been seen as having little opposition to re-election. […]Ms. Judge, a nurse by profession, has been a political fixture in Iowa for decades, serving in the State Senate, as secretary of agriculture – the first woman to hold that post – then as lieutenant governor. She and her husband own a cow and calf farm in rural southern Iowa. Democrats had wooed her to challenge Mr. Grassley for some time, but she had demurred until now, because Mr. Grassley has been extremely popular in the state.
If the reporting is accurate, Judge sees an opportunity that didn’t exist before – and so do Democrats.
Part of this dynamic is driven by Grassley’s genuinely ridiculous handling of the Supreme Court vacancy, and the degree to which the pressure is causing him to seemingly unravel. The Iowan is in an incredibly important position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and by any fair measure, Grassley’s doing a truly horrible job.
Indeed, news organizations – and even some Republicans – in Iowa are hammering Grassley for his scandalous partisan tantrum, causing many to rethink his re-election odds.
The fact that Grassley this week began fundraising off the controversy, even while whining about Democrats “politicizing” the court vacancy, only added insult to injury.
But for Democrats on a national level, the prospect of a divided and chaotic Republican Party, and even a possible Donald Trump nomination, has changed expectations about the entire election cycle.
And if Chuck Grassley is no longer seen as a safe bet for re-election, who is?