This past weekend, Senator Grassley suffered a burn on his leg as a small brush fire at his farm in Butler County got out of control. Thankfully Grassley is okay, but he still has to tend to another fire of sorts – the one he ignited last week when he said that he would need a month or so to figure out where he stands on the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that purports to allow gay marriage in Iowa. Grassley also indicated that he might support civil unions rather than marriage for same-sex couples.
Grassley is known for his awe-shucks demeanor, but on the issue of gay marriage, Iowans want to know where their elected officials stand, and many of Iowa’s Republicans found his answer to be inadequate. If Grassley wasn’t up for re-election in 2010, this would probably blow over with time, but with gay marriage being a front-burner issue in 2010 and potentially again in 2012, Grassley’s position on gay marriage could haunt him if he fails to deal with it.
While Grassley remains immensely popular among Iowa Republicans, this isn’t the first time that he has disappointed some in the GOP. Grassley has been criticized by conservatives for securing $50 million from the federal government for an indoor rain forest in Iowa, and many frowned when he supported the first Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
Conservatives have already voiced their disappointment with Grassley on the gay marriage issue, and some have even insinuated that he could potentially face a primary challenge. While there have been whispers of someone running against Grassley in a primary for years, talking about it and actually doing it are two very different things.
A primary campaign against Grassley would prove to be extremely difficult. Grassley doesn’t have to worry about funding his campaign. In his year-end disclosure with the Federal Election Commission, he had $2.8 million cash-on-hand. A primary opponent would find it almost impossible to raise a substantial amount of money to run a competitive campaign against him.
Grassley is also the best known politician in the state, and many Iowans feel some sort of bond with him. Grassley’s approval numbers did take a little dip in the latest Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register, but he still had a 66% approval rating, which is the highest in the state, and is two points higher than President Obama’s approval rating. 47% of respondents to the Register’s poll also said they would definitely vote to re-elect him.
We will have to wait and see if a primary candidate against Grassley emerges, but the firestorm that Grassley created with his comments last week shows that Iowans see this as a black or white type of issue and are demanding to know where their elected officials stand. Grassley would be wise to tend to this fire now while it is still manageable. Failing to do so could cause headaches down the road.
While Grassley is dealing with this issue now, the real heat will be on Democrat state legislators who are not being allowed to vote on this issue because the leadership in both chambers will not allow a constitutional amendment on marriage to come to the floor of either chamber for an up or down vote. Republicans in the Iowa House have already attempted to get the House members on record and will continue to find creative ways to get House Democrats to vote on the matter.
Just as in Grassley’s case, if Iowa voters view their local legislators as trying to walk a fine line or be on both sides of this issue, they may pay the price on Election Day. This past Saturday, 200 people turned out in Oskaloosa to confront State Sen. Tom Rielly and State Rep. Eric Palmer. Palmer, who was elected in 2006, was funded by a gay-rights activist from Colorado.
Rielly said, “This ruling goes against my Catholic values, the values that I was raised with and the values I raise my two daughters with… but in the end, I uphold the court’s decision. I decided this was an issue of civil rights and we must all read the decision.”
While these two legislators are very clear with their stance on the issue, they still have to deal with the majority of Iowans who disagree with the Court’s ruling. The gay marriage issue in Iowa is bound to remain one of the top issues in the next election. The candidates who will struggle in this political environment are those who fail to clearly state their position on the issue. To Iowans, it doesn’t matter if you are an iconic Senator like Chuck Grassley or a local legislator, they just want to know which side are you on.
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