This Iowa farmer has his finger on the 2020 pulse

Hint: It’s Chuck Grassley


Peter Cohn, Roll Call

Apr 9, 2019


ANALYSIS — The eyes of the world are again on Iowa, hallowed political ground that punches far above the weight of its six electoral votes.


The state’s senior senator, Charles E. Grassley, a Republican now in his seventh term, says Hawkeye State voters “want people that don’t have extreme right or left views.” It’s also simple math: Democrats and Republicans each make up less than one-third of Iowa’s registered voters, so winning over independents is critical.


No one in Congress has more influence over the federal budget than Grassley, who chairs the Finance Committee. He oversees two-thirds of all spending and every dime of tax revenue collected — which also gives him sway over tariffs and trade.


That power might help save President Donald Trump from his own policy agenda. Grassley, a self-described conservative, is unlikely to push bills that alienate the two-thirds of Americans Gallup says identify as moderate or liberal. As he said in March hearings on Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget: “A president proposes, but Congress disposes.”


He wants to unite Trump and Democrats to rein in prescription drug costs, even if it means taking on his own GOP committee members. And he’s willing to consider tax increases to finance a big infrastructure package.


Grassley usually takes a more traditional Republican view of taxes, crediting the 2017 tax cuts for a return to 3 percent economic growth last year, or roughly the post-World War II average. He acknowledges that debt and deficits have become an afterthought, but says faster growth is the elixir: Reducing the debt, he says, won’t happen by raising taxes. “It’s going to be through more taxpayers.”


The longest-serving GOP senator has won through good times and bad for his party. Grassley was first elected to the House in the 1974 post-Watergate midterms, when Democrats netted 49 House seats. In his first Senate re-election campaign in 1986, Grassley won by 32 points, while Republicans lost eight seats as well as control of the chamber. Since then, he’s never gotten less than 60 percent of the vote.


There are lessons in Grassley’s crossover appeal, since Iowa’s relevance stems from more than just the “first in the nation” caucuses. As University of Northern Iowa professors Donna R. Hoffman and Christopher W. Larimer note, Iowa is one of just five states labeled a “battleground” in every presidential election since 2000. Iowans have picked the winner in six of the last seven elections, a feat matched or topped by only three other states; Iowa’s record would have been perfect like Ohio’s if Al Gore hadn’t defeated George W. Bush by 4,144 votes in 2000.


The last time a Democrat won the presidency without Iowa was 1976, thanks to Georgia’s Jimmy Carter blazing a trail across the South — a far-fetched outcome for today’s Democrats. And as Grassley points out, Trump got more Iowa votes than any GOP presidential candidate since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.


Another election holds warnings for Trump:


more, including video report [2:18 min.]