Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Primarying Grassley

Primarying Grassley? Naaah, just sending a message

Political junkies love fantasy scenarios, clashes of the titans. The ultimate fantasy is the old-fashioned brokered presidential convention, but we've all grown older and wiser and wistful and realistic about that.

Next on the list is The Killer Primary: donkeys and elephants eating their own, with ostensible differences in policy but really about interpersonal drama and raw power. We had the primary of a lifetime last year and we're jonesing for more. So we turn to... Iowa Republicans?

The rumblings on the right about primarying Chuck Grassley won't lead to a serious challenge, but they do shed some interesting light on the state of the GOP in 2009.

How sad is this: In the Iowa Republican Party of Bob Ray and Mary Louise Smith, people are now complaining that Chuck Grassley, who beat John Culver on the Reagan-era triple threat of ERA, abortion and Panama Canal, isn't conservative enough?

What this is really about, as I see it, is a shot across Grassley's bow. Iowa Republicans are preparing to define themselves entirely in terms of the Varnum v. Brien gay marriage ruling, and Grassley's sin is that he did not immediately join the pitchforks and torches mob. Chuck has other stuff to do; with the Republican ranks decimated in Washington, he has by default become one of the national leaders of the party.

To the Iowa GOP, Grassley's not wrong on substance, he's wrong on emphasis. Iowa Republicans are thinking parochial these days and don't want their most popular vote-getter acting all Washington on them. They want General Grassley working the home front and they want him on message.

The primary speculation will likely fizzle as the governor's primary heats up. The still-sizable moderate contingent isn't going to give the nomination to Bob Vander Plaats without a fight, because they know he won't carry a county east of I-35 in a general election. As for the religious conservatives, The Gay is their priority and with VP, one of their own, in the governor's primary, they'll work that rather than fight a quixotic effort against the dean of the state party.

But let's suppose it does happen.

No careerist is going to do this; people understand that Grassley's running one last time and grandson state Rep. Pat Grassley is waiting in the wings till he's old enough in 2016. You don't strike at the king unless you kill him, and a careerist can wait six years and joust against the young prince instead.

Bill Salier ran a half-decent primary campaign in 2002, sure, but it was a challenge only in function, not in fact. Greg Ganske was only an anointed one, not a true incumbent, and he was no Chuck Grassley in the trenches.

Unlike some long-time Washingtonians who haven't had a tough race in decades, Grassley's kept the home fires tended. This latest dust-up is the first ever sign of trouble in his own back yard, and for an incumbent to get a serious primary challenge there's got to be a long-term pattern and $eriou$ backing. If there was going to be a serious challenge from the right to Chuck Grassley, Club For Growth would have recruited the candidate and started raising the money alreadt. Anyone hearing Club For Growth bashing "taxpayer watchdog" Grassley yet? All I hear is crickets chirping.

The ur-primary in Iowa history was the Branstad-Grandy battle of 1994, and Branstad, for all his longevity, was never really adored. He was just kind of there, meh with a mustache. There's nowhere near the "been there too long" grumbling against Grassley that there was against Branstad, maybe because senators have a longer shelf life. And for all the Gopher jokes, Fred Grandy was a serious guy and a real threat.

There is only one Republican in the state with the name ID, base popularity, and fund raising potential to mount an even remotely serious primary challenge to Chuck Grassley: Steve King. He loves being the center of attention, and plants his own speculation. But King has shown throughout his career that he's all talk and no action.

The killer argument against a King primary: you passed up Harkin in `08, and now you're eating one of your own? Grassley would say it folksier than that and swat King away faster than a cow flicking shit off its tail.

Hey, if the metaphor fits.

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