Poll: Grassley 48, Vilsack 44
Research 2000 poll for Daily Kos gives us the above number in a hypothetical 2010 Senate race. (Note to Christie's fans, the poll specified TOM Vilsack.)
Can Iowa Democrats actually envision knocking off Grassley? We haven't dreamed of it since at least 1986. The last three cycles -- and bless Jean Lloyd-Jones, Dave Osterberg and Art Small -- the state party has taken the approach of "don't waste the money, throw some Johnson County lefty out there to lose." (Yes, I know Osterberg is from Mt. Vernon, but I always wanted to annex Mt. Vernon. I'd rather have the bump on the top of the county, instead of Lone Tree at the bottom.)
Vilsack, lost in the cabinet shuffle, could be looking for something to do. Vilsack has the network to raise the money he needs, both in Iowa and beyond, and he'll clearly be the national party's pick for the seat.
Watch first to see if he does any work on rebuilding his Democratic base. Part of that is our own fault: we Iowa Dems have had so many big wins in the last few years that we forget just how big a deal it what when TV took back Terrace Hill after 30 years.
From an Iowa-base perspective, Vilsack backed the wrong horse when he left the presidential race, and to some extent he's seen as a Hillary, DLC Democrat in a Barack Obama party. But he did what he needed to do in the fall, and the Hillary vs. Obama war is fading into the distance with Clinton in the cabinet. Watch to see if the fiery populist Tom of 1998 is seen at get-togethers around the state. (He may still have to answer to the party activists for signing English Only, though. Was he really that scared of Doug freakin' Gross?)
So, would a Vilsack candidacy vault this race to the top of the charts? Or will Vilsack be to 2010 what Jim Slattery in Kansas, Scott Kleeb in Nebraska, Ronnie Musgrove in Mississippi and Larry LaRocco in Idaho were to 2008: candidacies that looked strong on paper but just never caught on?
Those states are all redder than Iowa. The better analogy may be Tom Allen in Maine, a state that like Iowa is trending Democratic with an incumbent Republican, Susan Collins, who talked more moderate than she really was. But Allen couldn't make it stick the way Jeff Merkley did in Oregon against another fake moderate, Gordon Smith.
Grassley's last tough race was as a challenger in 1980. Given the long time since he's had to break a sweat, you might think Grassley's campaign skills have atrophied, like Bill Roth in Delaware, who lost after 5 terms in 2000. A hotshot newcomer might be able to make the Career Politician case against Grassley--this year marks his 50th consecutive year in office. But Grassley has always tended carefully to the roots and maintained the popular aw-shucks persona. And Vilsack has a little bit too long of a resume, as a mayor, legislator and two-term governor, to make that argument.
Kos thinks Grassley is likely to retire at 77, but I think he'll (try to) hold out one more term till 2016 and try to hand the seat off to his grandson, state Rep. Pat Grassley, who's not quite old enough yet.
So Grassley's in, and we'll watch to see if Vilsack is too. Will the V For Victory logo be back?