Will he or won’t he? Both Republicans and Democrats are anxious to know if the 87-year-old Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley will run for re-election. Both sides agree that with Grassley on the ballot, Iowa will remain safely Republican. But if Grassley chooses to hang it up, all bets are off and Iowa becomes a battleground.
Iowa has been trending a little redder in recent elections. Donald Trump carried the state with ease in 2020 and Republicans control both the statehouse and U.S. Senate seats as well as having a Republican governor. The other Republican Senator, Joni Ernst, just won reelection in 2020. The more radical the Democrats get, the more they lose in Iowa.
But Grassley’s age may become an issue if, as expected, he attracts primary challengers. Even though he still runs two miles several days a week and does pushups, there are plenty of Republicans who are angry with him for his efforts to reach across the aisle to Democrats on several issues like criminal justice reform and drug prices. But he is a widely respected figure on the Hill and has coasted to victory his last six elections. He routinely gets more than 65 percent of the vote and has occasionally topped 70 percent.
It’s clear that if he wants to run, he’ll be re-elected with similar numbers.
“Listen, there’s nothing I see that’s going to keep me from serving another six years if I decide to do it,” he said recently. “I just work from day to day. God will take care of tomorrow.”
Senators in both parties say Grassley is sharp as a ginsu knife and his health appears impeccable. He dismisses questions about his age or aptitude, either with a push-up challenge — which makes doubters look silly — or a defense of his record. No whispered questions about acuity follow him, the way they have Feinstein or the late Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).
Still, there’s some consternation in Iowa over whether it’s time to pass the torch.
“The general feeling of probably the public, on maybe both sides, is that he should retire. That age will be a factor down the road,” said Ardie Kuhse, a longtime supporter back home who runs the Waukon Economic Development Corporation. Butshe disagrees: “As long as he can and will, I think he is able. That’s how I feel.”
A Grassley retirement would be a political earthquake, not just in Iowa but across the country. The implications of an open Republican Senate seat in an election year where the GOP is poised to take control of the Senate are heavy. There is quite literally no margin for error.
But no one is really pressuring Grassley to run again — at least publicly.
His unconventional moves aside, Grassley’s a political pro, toeing the line between establishment Republicans and Trump-era hardliners. He says there were some irregularities in the 2020 election but Biden is the legitimate president. And though he never seriously contemplated challenging Biden’s win, he says his colleagues had every right to do so.
While he wants Iowa’s famous first-in-the-nation presidential caucus to be wide open in 2024, he doesn’t say his party should move on from Trump: “If he runs in 2024, nobody can do anything about that.”
It sounds like Grassley doesn’t care whether he has Trump’s blessing or not. That’s fully in keeping with Grassley’s careful straddling between pro- and anti-Trump Republicans. It’s why he’s lasted in politics for more than 60 years and it looks like he will keep going in 2022.