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October 27th, 2009

Conlin’s Candidacy: Good for Grassley?

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Written by: Craig Robinson
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grassley2007It’s hard to believe, but Senator Grassley is probably thankful that Roxanne Conlin, a millionaire liberal trial attorney from Des Moines, is expected to be his Democratic opponent next fall.  The possibility of Conlin being the Democrats’ candidate against Grassley next fall became more likely yesterday when Christy Vilsack said he would not run for the U.S. Senate.  If Conlin successfully navigates the primary, she will be the most formidable candidate that Sen. Grassley has faced since first being elected to United States Senate in 1980.

Senator Grassley has seen his normally stellar approval rating among Iowans slip in 2009. In February of this year, Grassley’s approval rating according to a Survey USA Poll stood at a pristine 71 percent.  Since that time, however, Grassley’s approval numbers have fallen to a more pedestrian 50% in Survey USA’s most recent poll.

While Iowa Democrats are salivating over the thought that Grassley may be vulnerable, Grassley’s approval rating is much stronger than Governor Culver’s and Sen. Harkin’s.  Grassley’s 50 percent approval is four points higher than President Obama in Iowa, six points higher than Sen. Harkin, and nine points than Governor Chet Culver’s.    More Iowans disapprove of the job that Obama, Harkin, and Culver are doing than approve, while only 40 percent disapprove of the job Senator Grassley is doing.

The Survey USA tracking polls have shown that all Iowa incumbents have seen their approval numbers slide since the beginning of 2009.  Grassley’s slide in approval rating can be attributed to three factors.  First, the current political climate is anti-incumbent.  Second, Grassley’s early negations with the Obama administration on health care reform raised questions with some in the Republican Party.  In fact, only 65 percent of Iowa Republicans currently approve of the job Senator Grassley is doing.  Third, Grassley’s late criticism and vote against the Senate health care bill has made him a target of President Obama and the Democrats.

With Senator Grassley taking heat from all sides, it should come as no surprised that his job approval numbers have suffered in the polls.  During the August recess, Grassley began to reach out and assure Iowans that he does not support the government running the health care system.  His vote against the Baucus Health care bill should also help Grassley in the polls.

The emergence of a liberal opponent will also give Grassley the ability to rally Republicans and independent voters around his re-election campaign.  Running against a liberal trial lawyer should allow Grassley to solidify his Republican base while also being able to reach out to independent voters.  While Roxanne Conlin has never held elective office and thus doesn’t have a voting record, her list of clients provides Senator Grassley will plenty of ammunition for his re-election campaign.    In fact, Conlin owns the web address  That web address directs people to the website for her law firm.  It is likely that Grassley will make tort reform a major issue in his race if Conlin wins the Democratic Primary.

In addition to being a millionaire liberal trial attorney, the differences between Conlin and Grassley couldn’t be more different.

Grassley is from rural Iowa.  Conlin is from Des Moines.
Grassley is pro-life. Conlin is pro-choice.
Grassley supports traditional marriage. Conlin supports gay rights.
Grassley is pro-business. Conlin sues businesses.
Grassley is hated by the Obama administration.  Conlin would serve as a rubber stamp for their efforts.

What has many Iowa Democrats excited about Conlin’s candidacy is that she brings a lot of personal wealth with which she can fund her campaign.  Just yesterday, the Des Moines Register published an article that mentioned how Conlin’s campaign will help the Iowa Democratic Party pay for its coordinated campaign.

Conlin was one of the lead attorneys who filed a class action lawsuit against Microsoft.  The legal fees for that case topped $75 million in Iowa alone. She has the personal wealth to fund most of her campaign against Grassley if she chooses to do so.  A well funded opponent would be something Grassley hasn’t had to deal with since defeating Sen. John Culver in 1980.  Art Small, Grassley’s last opponent, spent a total of $132,503.00 in in 2004.  Grassley easily won re-election and received over 70 percent of the vote.

Conlin has already pledged not to take any contributions from political action committees or special interest groups.  That means her entire campaign will be funded by contributions from individuals or from herself. 

While it’s easy to see why Iowa Democratic Chairman Mike Kiernan recruited Conlin to run against Senator Grassley, it looks like Conlin would be the best thing that could happen to Grassley.  I’m sure he would rather run against no-name candidates like Art Small who can’t even raise enough money to run television ads, but in this environment, Grassley, an entrenched incumbent, needs formidable  candidate to campaign against.

A spirited U.S. Senate campaign could also be good for down ticket Republicans.  Grassley will undoubtedly be forced to spend money building a statewide grassroots organization that would benefit Republicans up and down the ballot.  With a liberal like Conlin sharing the top of the ticket with an unpopular incumbent governor in Chet Culver, Iowa Republicans might benefit from coattails for the first time in years.    2010 is starting to look even better for Iowa Republicans.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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