Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) coasted to re-election Tuesday, defeating former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge for a seventh term in the upper chamber.
Grassley, 83, drew the ire of Democrats and a fair number of independents earlier this year when, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he refused to hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Though Grassley hadn’t faced a competitive election since he first gained his Senate seat in 1980, Democrats had hoped that his association with Garland’s stalled nomination would lead voters in the Hawkeye State to abandon the veteran lawmaker. Moreover, Democrats hoped that Judge’s name recognition in the state, where she also served as agriculture secretary, would make her a formidable challenger.
For Judge, the moment that pushed her “over the edge,” she told The Huffington Post, was when Grassley said he was holding up the Supreme Court nomination for the benefit of his Iowa constituents, “that he was doing it for us. That was enough. Time to stop that.”
Like so much else this election cycle, the controversy surrounding Garland’s nomination was drowned out by the unprecedented bluster and controversy of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Judge’s campaign tried to shift focus to Grassley’s support of Trump, but Grassley’s longstanding ties to Iowa plus Trump’s deep support in the state made it a much less potent narrative for Judge.
“Chuck Grassley’s refusal to condemn Donald Trump’s candidacy following the revelation of Trump’s disgusting statements about sexual assault is pathetic,” Judge said in a news release.
Grassley, for his part, offered only tepid support for Trump. “You stop to think, there’s only a few saints who have been president of the United States,” he told reporters after video surfaced of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women.
Grassley’s role in determining the next Supreme Court justice will depend heavily on whether the GOP retains its control of the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, has repeatedly called on Grassley to hold hearings on Garland’s nomination.
However, Grassley has waffled over whether he is open to holding a lame-duck hearing for Garland, and if Hillary Clinton wins the White House and the Democrats retake control of the Senate, Republicans in the upper chamber may prefer to confirm Garland rather than risk a more liberal nominee from Clinton.
“You know, they asked me to speculate, and I shouldn’t speculate because who knows what is going to happen after the election. My position has not changed. The new president should make the appointment,” Grassley told reporters in September.
Judge’s loss will likely lead to a fair amount of soul-searching within Iowa’s Democratic circles. Judge was viewed with skepticism by some activists in the state who took issue with her record on the environment and unions, but she was the favorite of many Democratic officials, who viewed Judge’s less-well-known primary opponents, such as state Sen. Rob Hogg, as not having the name recognition necessary to take on Grassley.
CORRECTION: An earlier version had the wrong number of terms Grassley has served.