DES MOINES—A few months ago, David Young, the former top staffer to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, left a weekly Bible study for Senate chiefs of staff in the U.S. Capitol. On his way to lunch, he bumped into two Spanish-speaking immigrants who worked in a Senate cafeteria.
The two women noticed Young’s Bible, and struck up a conversation about their shared faith. The women said that they had never read an English language Bible. About a week later, Young returned with Bibles engraved with the women’s names and a personal note.
One of Young’s former colleagues recounted the story to illustrate the importance and influence of Young’s Christian faith.
“My faith is very important to me,” he said in an interview Friday previewing his announcement. “My relationship with Christ is the number one thing in my life,” he said. “It gives me peace. And thank God for grace, mercy and forgiveness, because I don’t know where I would be without it.”
Few Iowa Republicans know much about Young, 45, who stepped aside as Grassley’s top aide last month to run for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat. In the next few months, Young plans to change that.
This morning, he plans to officially announce his campaign and file his candidacy paperwork after lunch with friends and family at Fat Randi’s Bar and Grill in Van Meter, Young’s hometown.
“I want to take my public service to the next level,” he said. “I love people, and I want to help them. I don’t think that Bruce Braley in the Senate is a good thing for Iowa.”
Young’s former boss has nothing but praise for his protégé. Grassley said that he talked to Young two months ago about the Senate seat opportunity and told him that he would maintain his typical practice of remaining neutral in primaries.
“He’s an outstanding staffer, just an outstanding individual of good moral character,” Grassley said in an interview. “After working for three different senators and working for me for seven years, I can say without a doubt that he would be qualified on day one to start out as a senator who knows exactly how to get things done.”
Robert Cramer, the president of The FAMiLY LEADER, an influential social conservative group, has known Young since high school. While Cramer didn’t endorse Young or speak for his organization, he called Young a “man of integrity,” trustworthy and an “across-the-board conservative.”
The opinions of socially conservative opinion leaders could make or break Young’s campaign, as one of his main obstacles will be skepticism from grassroots activists about elevating a longtime congressional staffer to elected office.
“As people get to know him, I think they’ll like him,” said Cramer, who Democrats recently blocked as Gov. Terry Branstad’s nominee to the State Board of Regents because of his outspoken conservative views. “If they just look at a piece of paper and see that he’s been in Washington for his career, that’ll be a tough hurdle.”
Young said that what separates him from potential primary challenges such as former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker or state Sen. Joni Ernst is that he could immediately impact Washington by exercising oversight investigations of the Obama administration, a practice he honed as Grassley’s top aide.
“A lot of people [who run for Senate] say they’re going to do this that or the other,” Young said. “It’s not as easy as you think, but I can hit the ground running with oversight right away.”
Young also differentiated himself from Whitaker and Ernst by noting that he lacks a legislative or legal record that could provide a fertile target for Democrats. Furthermore, he noted that he’s the only potential candidate with proven fundraising experience in Senate races and the ability to raise the $8-10 million needed for a competitive race.
Young said it’s crucial to ensure that Rep. Bruce Braley, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, does not ascend to the Senate and continue Harkin’s liberal legacy.
“I want to make sure that Iowa is getting a vote in the Senate. Not that Grassley isn’t effective, because he’s got a lot of legislation passed, but I want to make sure Iowa isn’t canceled out.”
Nonetheless, he stressed that he is a different person than Grassley, preempting questions about a potential Grassley endorsement by noting that he wants to craft his own reputation and mentioning issues on which he and Grassley differ. While Grassley maintains a reputation as a folksy farmer, Young’s colleagues describe him as a savvy, shrewd operator.
“We’re not clones, but I agree with Sen. Grassley a heck of a lot more than I do with Bruce Braley, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I’m not going to ride on Sen. Grassley’s back on this campaign. I’m my own person.”
For example, Young pointed out issues where he disagrees with his former boss. He said he would not have voted for the Wall Street bailout, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, to confirm Eric Holder as U.S. Attorney General, or the 1986 immigration bill, which Young described as amnesty.
Young also said that he would not have signed on to the Stop Online Piracy Act or participated in the “Gang of Six” health care negotiations that preceded Obamacare.
“I would create a real contrast with Braley, who is as liberal as you can get,” he said. “We need a check on Obama and this Democrat Congress.”
He also slammed Braley for a major misunderstanding of how the Senate works. Braley recently blamed the inability of Democrats to pass a budget in years on Republican filibusters on WHO’s “The Insiders.” Young explained that the Senate budget is specifically exempted from filibusters.
On the issues, Young said that he’s pro-life, pro-traditional marriage and pro-Second Amendment. He also said that he opposes the current iteration of the draft immigration bill as too close to amnesty and supports repealing Obamacare.
“I do not believe in amnesty,” he said. “This immigration bill going through is over 1000 pages and gives way too much authority to bureaucrats.”
Young supports splitting the process into smaller chunks, such as measures dealing with employment verification and visas for high-skilled workers.
Young said that he’s most passionate about spending issues.
“Spending and debt is ultimately what is going to drive us into the ground,” he said. “We have to get a hold on that. I want to be a watchdog for the taxpayers. We’re only going to get jobs in the economy and get the government off the backs of families if we have fundamental tax reform that is flatter and fairer—and has certainty.”
Young said that he would use his Senate perch to try to block the implementation of Obamacare and push for its repeal. He mocked Braley for flip-flopping on the Keystone XL pipeline (Braley supported it before he was against it) and took a subtle jab at Whitaker for first stating that he didn’t want to repeal Obamacare before reversing himself.
“We’ve seen a lot of flip-flopping, on both sides of the aisle. I know what my principles are,” he said. “I’m not going to flip-flop because of political expediency or a lack of knowledge on these issues.”
Among former aides and staffers in other office, Young had a reputation as an unassuming but forceful advocate for Grassley during his seven-year stint as chief of staff.
“There’s not a lot of grandstanding,” said Cory Crowley, a former Grassley aide. “He’s willing to do all the hard work and get none of the credit. He’s doing this because he loves public service and the State of Iowa.”
Young has hired a top flight consulting team, including ad maker Fred Davis and Iowa native Sara Taylor Fagan, the former director of the White House Office of Political Affairs in the Bush Administration. The Tarrance Group’s Brian Tringali will poll for Young and Kyle Roberts will handle media buying.
It’s not unheard of for former congressional staffers to make the leap to elected office. Indeed, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, started his career as an aide to former Iowa Rep. Neal Smith and former Sen. Dick Clark, D-Iowa, won election after working for former Sen. John Culver (at the time a congressman).
Young, who graduated from Drake University in 1991, earned a salary of just under $170,000 as Grassley’s top aide. He formerly worked for Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo., the Bush-Quayle re-election campaign, and Media Research Center, a conservative advocacy group.
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