JOHNSTON — Chuck Grassley has run seven U.S. Senate campaigns and won each, by a staggering average margin of 35 percentage points.
But Grassley’s eighth Senate campaign, in 2022, may be different, J. Ann Selzer said this week while analyzing recent polling data for this weekend’s episode of “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.
In the latest batch of results from Selzer’s Iowa Poll, which is published in the Des Moines Register, Grassley’s job approval rating is positive, with 45% of Iowa voters saying they approve of his job performance and 41% saying they disapprove.
But that 45% approval is Grassley’s lowest in the Iowa Poll since his first U.S. Senate term in 1982, Selzer said. She said that could portend a more challenging reelection bid next year than Grassley is accustomed to.
Grassley has twice won reelection by 42 points, his smallest margin of reelection was 24 points in 2016, and Selzer said his Iowa Poll approval rating has in the past surged into the 80s.
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“Here is a senator who has had stratospheric approval numbers ... so for him to have fallen — and the last several polls he has been under 50% approval — it suggests that there is some weakness there,” Selzer said.
Grassley faces a challenge in the Republican primary from Sioux City attorney and state lawmaker Jim Carlin. The Democrats running in Iowa’s 2022 U.S. Senate race are former Congresswoman and state lawmaker Abby Finkenauer of Cedar Rapids, U.S. Navy veteran Mike Franken of Sioux City, physician Glenn Hurst of Minden and activist and veterans advocate Bob Krause of Burlington.
Partially holding down Grassley’s overall approval number is his rating among Iowa Republicans. Grassley’s approval was at 71% in the latest Iowa Poll, which was conducted earlier this month, while fellow Iowa Republicans were in the 80s: U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst was at 80% and Gov. Kim Reynolds at 88%.
“For Chuck Grassley to not only be in the 70s but the low 70s, it seems to me that there is a story there. There is something going on in terms of Iowans’ support for Sen. Grassley,” Selzer said.
Selzer said some of that erosion of Republican support could be happening in former President Donald Trump’s base. While Trump has endorsed Grassley, and a dozen of former Trump administration officials from Iowa did likewise this week, Grassley received a smattering of boos when introduced at Trump’s rally in October at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
“Because President Trump is still very popular in Iowa, that is not much of a leap to suggest that there is something going on there,” Selzer said.
Reynolds was the only Iowa politician whose approval rating surpassed 50% in the most recent Iowa Poll. The Republican governor earned a majority of support for her overall job performance as well as on issues like her management of the economy and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reynolds’ term ends next year, and while she has not yet made it official, she is widely expected to run for reelection.
Some factors that may help explain Reynolds’ approval numbers lie in other recent Iowa Poll results: Majorities of Iowans support two new COVID-related laws signed by Reynolds — one that widely expanded the ability for Iowans’ to claim an exemption from COVID vaccine requirements (52% of Iowa Poll respondents support the law and 39% oppose), and another that prohibits schools from enacting face mask requirements for staff and teachers (51% support and 45% oppose). The latter has been temporarily halted while it is tried in the courts.
Both poll results are widely separated along partisan lines: Republicans support the expanded vaccine mandate exemptions, while Democrats oppose them, and Republicans support the ban on mask requirements in schools while Democrats oppose the ban.
State lawmaker Ras Smith of Waterloo and Deidre DeJear, a Des Moines businesswoman and former state secretary of state candidate, are among the Democrats vying for their party’s nomination and the opportunity to face Reynolds in the 2022 general election.
“Iowa Press” airs on Iowa PBS at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and noon Sundays. The show can be viewed online at iowapbs.org.