DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Democrats nominated Patty Judge on Tuesday to challenge Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, opting for a former lieutenant governor with a fitting name to make the case that the longtime Republican senator overreached by refusing hearings for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee.
Judge defeated state Sen. Rob Hogg and two lesser-known candidates in the Democratic primary, despite not entering the race until March. National Democrats recruited her, sensing Grassley may be vulnerable over his position that the Senate should wait until the next president takes office before choosing a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He and other Republicans are refusing hearings for Obama's choice, Merrick Garland.
Judge, 72, a farmer who previously served as state agriculture secretary, will face a tall task in trying to defeat Grassley. The 82-year-old senator has $5 million available in his campaign account and hasn't lost an election since he first ran for the state Legislature in 1958.
"I'm ready to begin the next phase of this campaign and challenge Chuck Grassley by holding him accountable for his 42 years in Washington," Judge said in a statement after she claimed victory.
Judge's support by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee set her up for a successful primary run. Judge raised more money than her three competitors, which also included attorney Tom Fiegen and former state legislator Bob Krause. Judge was also the only one to air television ads ahead of the primary.
But Democratic activists in Iowa said Judge faced a tougher-than-expected primary amid local support for Hogg, a more liberal candidate. The 49-year-old entered the race last year and had endorsements from most Democratic state lawmakers and two key union groups.
Some voters said they weren't impressed with Judge's argument that she was the only candidate who could win against Grassley because of her name recognition. Gary Burger, of Des Moines, said he voted for Hogg.
"I just didn't think Patty Judge gave enough details on what it is she's planning on doing," the 69-year-old said.
For others, Judge's previous experience was the key selling point.
"I've liked her for a long time," said 74-year-old Alice Boyd, a retired teacher. "And aside from the Grassley mess, I think she'll turn some things around."