Voters are worried about Chuck Grassley’s age, and that’s a good thing

Grassley does a good test of that question — a test that deserves the attention of elected officials in this city run by geriatricians, whether or not they have a special connection to Hawkeye State.

Unlike Senate colleagues such as California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, Grassley was never followed by reports that he was losing his mind. Unlike a whole host of other senators — including much younger politicians like 50-year-old New Mexico Democrat Ben Ray Luján, who suffered a stroke — he didn’t miss much time due to serious health problems. His ad touts his best Senate attendance record.

And yet, a poll released this week that shocked the state’s political pros suggests voters have serious qualms about Grassley’s age. The survey, conducted by veteran Iowa polling firm Selzer & Co., reported Grassley was just 3 points ahead of Democratic challenger Mike Franken. The Republican governor of Iowa, meanwhile, led his race by 17 points, according to the survey conducted with the Des Moines Register.

Despite months of Grassley-the-pushup-pro messaging, about 60% of respondents, including more than a third of Republicans, told pollsters they thought age was a concern.

The question that should be on the minds of people like the incumbent US President (who turns 80 this fall), his most likely 2024 challenger (now 76), the Democratic triumvirate at the top of the House of representatives (82, 83 and 82) and maybe the entire Senate (the oldest in American history) is: what kind of concern? If no one disputes the idea that Grassley is physically and mentally up to the task, shouldn’t all be well?

Apparently not, even for some fans. “Obviously there are people voting for him who are still concerned about his age,” says J. Ann Selzer, the veteran Iowa pollster behind the survey. That in itself is surprising, she says, given the nature of partisan voting today. “Nowadays you don’t see a lot of cases where people give an answer and then contradict themselves.”

Selzer says the same vibe was showing in his polls even before Grassley declared himself up for re-election, as voters told him they would rather he not run.

The standard language of the questions she asked before Grassley decided to seek another one is telling: They asked if voters would prefer to re-elect Grassley or if it was time for someone else to take the job. It sounds less like a question about the incumbent’s physical health and more like a kindergarten teacher’s plea for fairness. In September 2021, almost two-thirds of Selzer’s poll chose this option.

In fact, it’s precisely because Grassley isn’t tracked by health and acuity issues that age is an inescapable issue in racing. “It’s not because Mike Franken is talking about it,” says Jeff Link, a Democratic strategist in Des Moines. “It’s because Grassley talks about it all the time. He does push-ups at events to prove he’s fit. … I think if Mike Franken talked about age, it would work to Grassley’s advantage.

Usually, when they become subjects of campaign attack, questions about a politician’s age devolve into a generally pointless debate about health, intellectual power, or ageism. When people tried to push Ruth Bader Ginsburg out of office, the public conversation between admirers and detractors quickly focused on the justice training routine and its pointed questions and how dare you make assumptions based on her age. , in any event ? Ditto recurring viral videos of Joe Biden’s verbal oopsies or Donald Trump’s weird way of walking down a ramp: they put voters and pundits in the position of playing gerontologist, and all of that can really seem pretty unfair to the candidate. older in question.

But the problem of American gerontocracy is not ultimately a problem of crippled or senescent leadership. Despite sad stories like the final years of Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran, we really don’t have anything like Brezhnev’s dying and stunned political office of the USSR. I will point out that Nancy Pelosi (82) and Mitch McConnell (80) could top and top most mortals, including me. The problem, instead, is an increasingly inscrutable elite with entrenched habits, jobs that are treated as entitlements, and courtier cliques that disconnect them from the zeitgeist.

If indeed a statistically relevant proportion of Iowa voters say that sometimes a guy has been around too long, that’s a good thing for Washington. And if that same population comes to see the choice to stay as an example of refusing to do the decent and sensible thing, that should scare Joe Biden, Donald Trump and a host of other powerful figures. Look no further than the posthumous backlash against RBG to see just how short the journey can be from a beloved institution to a victim of self-delusion.

Not that such a transformation is likely in Grassley’s case by November. It remains strongly favoured, even if the margin turns out to be smaller. There are also enough Iowa-specific factors shaping the race to make it difficult to do anything until age alone. He had a credible main challenger this year. The GOP has changed: Its votes may be conservative enough to put off some moderates, but its style doesn’t match the incendiary rhetoric favored by Trump-era Republicans in Iowa and beyond.

“He’s still in the lead,” Selzer said. “So what else is he going to say?” This age is a number and he runs two miles a day. I think that’s the most obvious thing for him to say.

Indeed, that was the party line after the last poll. “If people think I can’t do the job, they should follow me,” he told a group of Iowa radio reporters this week. “I go to bed at 9 a.m. I get up at 4 a.m. [Run] two miles in the morning. Arrive at the office before 6 p.m. Usually in the office until 6:30 p.m., until 7:15 p.m. I have a busy schedule when I’m in the office – you know, committee meetings, caucuses, interviews like this that I do 52 times a year.”


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