Dems step up Grassley attacks

Dems step up Grassley attacks
© Greg Nash

Democrats are increasingly laying a hammer to Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyHow do you get lower cost drugs? Give the FDA a bigger stick GOP senator warns of 'holy hell to pay' if Trump fires Sessions GOP senator warns Trump: Panel won't take up attorney general nominee this year MORE as they seek to unseat the Iowa Republican.

Grassley’s Senate seat is widely viewed as likely to stay in the GOP column, but Democrats believe the rise of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump cheers on Senate GOP ahead of 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal vote Live Coverage: Senate votes down 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal Pete King defends ‘unorthodox’ Scaramucci after attacks on Priebus MORE and the fight over the Supreme Court are providing the perfect storm for taking out the six-term GOP incumbent.

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Grassley has been perennially popular in his home state, where he's built a reputation as a GOP senator with an independent streak.

But a poll this week conducted by a Democratic-leaning firm for the Constitutional Responsibility Project found Grassley leading Democratic challenger Patty Judge just 48 percent to 41 percent.

It’s a margin far below Grassley’s past elections, when he’s frequently won at least 60 percent of the vote.

Republicans brushed off the poll from the left-leaning firm, but Judge’s campaign pounced on it to try to buy some momentum.

Sam Roecker, Judge’s campaign manager, said Grassley is “in a race unlike any other during his 36 years in the U.S. Senate” and that he’ll be held accountable “for his obstruction and inaction.”

Democrats are pitching to voters that Grassley has changed and is no longer a maverick independent always looking out for Iowa.

Instead, they want to paint him as working hand-in-hand with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellLawmakers look forward after ObamaCare repeal failure McConnell: 'Time to move on' after healthcare defeat Senate defeats ObamaCare repeal measure MORE (R-Ky.).

Outside groups, Judge and Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidConservative Senate candidate calls on GOP to end filibuster Ex-Reid aide: McConnell's 'original sin' was casting ObamaCare as 'partisan, socialist takeover' GOP faces growing demographic nightmare in West MORE (D-Nev.) have been blistering in their attacks, particularly on Grassley’s role in refusing to hold a vote or a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

The same poll showed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSessions says he doesn't regret recusing himself from Russia probe Judiciary Committee Republicans want a second special counsel: report Fusion GPS: White House trying to smear us on Russia MORE defeating Trump in Iowa, suggesting Grassley will have to hope voters split their ballots.

Grassley, like most Republicans, is planning to localize his reelection bid, telling a local radio station this week that going into November he would “continue to hold government accountable” and “legislate in a bipartisan effective way.”

Asked about the steady stream of criticism from Democrats, Grassley’s office pointed to a fact sheet focused on Reid’s arguments against Grassley. It is entitled “There's Reid, and then there's reality.”

The release, which replies to approximately two dozen comments from Reid, touts the dozens of bipartisan bills passed out of the Judiciary Committee under Grassley’s watch and states that if the State Department had answered his initial letters in 2013, the inquiry into Clinton's private email server wouldn’t have dragged on.

Republicans also downplay concerns that the Democratic attacks are making inroads with voters in Iowa, noting that after decades in politics, Grassley is a known quantity in his home state.

“[Grassley’s] broadly popular, even with Democrats, in Iowa. National Democrats have done nothing to change it,” said Greg Blair, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Democrats are trying to tie Grassley to Trump.

Judge's campaign released a web ad this week playing up a blistering Des Moines Register editorial that was critical of Grassley's response to Trump's assertion that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has “an absolute conflict” in presiding over fraud lawsuits against Trump University because of his Mexican heritage.

The state’s largest newspaper wrote that “when it comes to Donald Trump, there are invertebrates that have shown more spine than Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyHow do you get lower cost drugs? Give the FDA a bigger stick GOP senator warns of 'holy hell to pay' if Trump fires Sessions GOP senator warns Trump: Panel won't take up attorney general nominee this year MORE.”

While more vulnerable GOP senators are trying to keep a safe distance or are disavowing him altogether, Grassley hasn’t shied away from talking about Trump.

He introduced the brash businessman at an Iowa rally earlier this year, told reporters that his list of potential Supreme Court picks should assuage the doubts of conservative voters, and is planning to attend at least part of the Republican Party’s national convention in Cleveland next month.

He also isn’t ruling out campaigning with his party’s likely presidential nominee.

“The answer is yes. I think that you ought to ask him if wants to campaign with me. If he asks me to campaign with him, I would,” Grassley told two Iowa reporters during a phone interview that was subsequently circulated by American Bridge, a Democratic super-PAC.

Grassley’s willingness to talk Trump has landed him in hot water, including last week when he had to clarify that he didn’t mean to “equate” Trump's racially charged attack against Curiel to a line Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor used in speeches about diversity.

But he also told local reporters that Iowans “aren’t very concerned” about Trump's comments on the district judge.

Democrats are betting that Grassley is wrong. Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Overnight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate MORE (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said he thinks it’s possible Grassley could lose.

“Not only his stand with supporting Donald Trump, but also the fact that he won’t give a hearing to a Supreme Court justice,” Tester told USA Today earlier this month. “That’s not Iowa; that’s not Iowa values.”