DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Declaring herself the "Judge" Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley "can't ignore," former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge launched a Democratic bid Friday to unseat the Judiciary Committee chairman — a campaign she said would focus largely on his handling of the current Supreme Court vacancy.
Judge, 72, gives Democrats a candidate with proven ability to win a statewide election and a down-to-earth background that matches Grassley's family farmer vibe. Grassley comes from a family that once raised hogs and now plants corn and soybeans. Judge has raised cows with her family for 40 years.
She has a growing political resume, albeit not nearly as long as the 82-year-old senator's. Grassley was first elected to the state Legislature in 1958 before winning a U.S. House seat in 1974 and the Senate seat in 1980.
The Democratic challenger served two terms in the Iowa Senate and became the first woman to be elected Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 1998, serving two terms. She was elected lieutenant governor with former Gov. Chet Culver in 2006, but they were defeated by a wide margin in a 2010 campaign against former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who was persuaded to return after leaving office in 1998.
During an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Judge said she initially didn't want to run but reconsidered after Grassley insisted he would not hold hearings to vet a nominee from President Barack Obama to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month in Texas.
"I had not thought that I wanted to be involved in a campaign again, but after the Supreme Court issue came up and Chuck Grassley acted so badly and just seemed to cave to Washington pressure I decided that it was something I need to speak out about," she said.
She said that by championing the Republican strategy to stonewall any Obama Supreme Court nomination, Grassley is acting like someone who has been in Washington for far too long.
"Instead of working on behalf of Iowans, he's working for his friends in Washington to block progress and promote obstructionism," she said in a statement announcing her campaign.
Eric Woolson, a spokesman for Grassley's campaign, pointed out on his Twitter feed that Judge "lost 90 of 99 counties after one-term Culver/Judge administration disaster. Now she's the Democrats' savior? Bring it on!"
Grassley, who has not lost a general election in 50 years, has typically won with more than 60 percent of the vote. He's established a reputation for visiting each of Iowa's 99 counties every year, a practice that has become known in political circles as "the full Grassley."
Democrats believe he's been weakened by his refusal to vet a high court nominee
"What I'm hearing from many people, Democrats, independents and some Republicans is that they're very dismayed with this. Typically he gets by because he does his job. This is hitting at the core of who he is," said Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire.
Grassley's stance could be further weakened by discussion that Obama is considering nominating 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jane L. Kelly, who was swiftly confirmed in 2013 on a Senate vote of 96-0, with Grassley's support.
It would appear extremely political to deny the 51-year-old former public defender at least a hearing.
Republicans said Judge's candidacy is a "fool's errand."
"Senator Grassley wrote the book on how public servants should talk to voters and take their ideas and concerns directly to Washington," said Greg Blair, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Patty Judge is an out-of-touch liberal who was shown the door by voters last time she ran for office."
In addition to facing the Grassley's seemingly impenetrable political shield Judge must raise enough money to be competitive.
She's convinced elections this year are not about money.
"This is such a different time," she said. "Yes, it's going to take money and yes, I think I can raise money and run a competitive race."