DES MOINES — Retired public radio icon Garrison Keillor mixed homespun humor with political commentary Wednesday night in urging Iowans to support Democrat Patty Judge's bid for the U.S. Senate and encourage their neighbors not to buy what GOP presidential Donald Trump is peddling.
Keillor, the creator and former host of "A Prairie Home Companion," said he traveled from neighboring Minnesota to support Judge in her "heroic venture" of trying to unseat a "deeply entrenched incumbent" in Republican Sen. Charles Grassley in the Nov. 8 general election.
"I came because we don't have a statewide race in Minnesota. We have nothing, so I came down here for the excitement of it — to see David against Goliath," Keillor told reporters before the start of a fundraiser in the back room of a downtown Des Moines jazz cabaret that drew about 150 supporters.
"Patty Judge is courageous and she's funny. She's salt of the earth. She's what we up in Minnesota think of as Iowa, which is a state of sensible people that got all the good land and we had to make do with sandy, rocky soil up there," he said.
Keillor noted that it is somewhat rare for him to hit the campaign trail but he occasionally likes to "go around and speak up for Democrats in endangered places."
"I go when I'm asked and I like underdogs, as we all do," he added.
Keillor spoke with amazement that people he knows with strong, life-long Midwest values who are "utterly detached from reality" and making an about face with plans to vote for Trump this year, turning away from GOP principles in a way that is a "modern-day tragedy."
"The fringe has come into the middle now," he said.
Keillor said Trump's lead role in the birther moment showed him to be a "shameless, shameless man" and his plan to deport 11 million people in America illegally flies in the face of the nation's history of human rights.
"I hate to think of people that I know and respect and love voting for him so, let's save them from it," Keillor told the crowd. "It just cannot happen. We cannot let it happen. We have a short time to change it. Election Day is coming on us very quickly."
Of Grassley, Keillor said: "This was the year when Senator Grassley was supposed to take a stand on behalf of conservative Republican principles and he failed the test, he failed the test of his own party and now this has to be put to the voters. I'm so glad you have a candidate who's going to put it to the voters."
Keillor's political message was entwined in a rambling address in which he quoted poetry, mused about growing up in public school and let the crowd in sing-a-longs that ranged from patriotic, popular, religious and Iowa-themed songs that included Greg Brown's "Iowa Waltz" — which he said should be the state's song.
For her part, Judge said she was "thrilled" to have Keillor in Iowa campaigning for her, noting she has been a fan of his radio show "for many, many years" and still listens to reruns of "A Prairie Home Companion." "It's very special to me and I really appreciate it so much," she said.