A foursome of middle-aged golfers fresh off the green laughed and chatted at the bar of the Davenport Country Club.
A few feet away, past the closed French doors in a small meeting room, Iowa's longest-serving U.S. senator held court and talked esoterically about pharmacy benefit manager "clawbacks" and the Medicare Part D "donut hole" coverage gap with a group of roughly 20 people, many of them retirees.
"I'm three years younger than you are, and I could never duplicate your schedule," 86-year-old Davenport resident and retired Augustana College economics professor Bill Conway told Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley to laughter and applause.
Grassley, 88, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, announced Friday he will seek re-election to an eighth term.
“I’m working as hard as ever for the people of Iowa and there’s more work to do," Grassley said in a statement. "In a time of crisis and polarization, Iowa needs strong, effective leadership. I’m focused on serving the people of Iowa as your senator and fighting for policies that will make Iowa an even better place to raise a family and grow a business."
The Butler County family farmer from New Hartford made the announcement at 4 a.m. via Twitter, followed by an early morning roundtable table discussion with law enforcement officials in Marion to kick off a series of campaign events Friday, including at stop at the country club to discuss his efforts to lower prescription drug prices.
The second-oldest member of the Senate, Grassley has held elective office continuously since 1959, when he was first elected to the Iowa House. He has served Iowans in the Senate since 1981, holding major committee assignments — including as chairman of the powerful Senate finance and judiciary committees — and formerly serving as the chamber’s second-highest presiding officer. He famously has established the “full Grassley,” a tour of 99 counties that he makes every year.
Grassley, who would be 95 at the end of his term if re-elected, said he intends to serve a full term. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina was 100 when he left the Senate in 2002.
"I love my work. I wouldn't be running for re-election if I didn't like serving the people of Iowa," Grassley said Friday, emphasizing his fitness.
He noted he wakes up at 4 a.m. six days a week and runs two miles, is in his Washington office by 6 a.m. and usually works until 6:30 p.m. Grassley as well said he has been encouraged to run by Iowans as he toured the state in recent months.
"I've maybe a given a little more thought about re-election than I have in previous re-elections," Grassley said. "But, when you consider the fact that I've had a lot of encouragement from Iowans to run, speaking along the line of 'We need your common sense in Washington.' Also, my family ... and wife were a big considerations and they've encouraged me to run."
Grassley, in a statement, added: “Iowans know how seriously I take my work representing them in the U.S. Senate to solve problems, which is why I never miss a vote."
Last November, Grassley — third in line for the presidency at the time under the order of succession during his stint as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate — was sidelined for nearly two weeks when he voluntarily placed himself in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. Grassley was asymptomatic throughout his quarantine and was cleared to return to the office by his doctors.
His absence from the Senate meant he missed his first Senate vote since July 1993, ending a streak of casting 8,927 consecutive votes. He holds the record for longest length of time without missing a vote in the history of the U.S. Senate.
Grassley campaign a boost for Republicans
Grassley's announcement comes after a wave of other Republican senators have announced retirements that complicate the party's efforts to break Democrat's razor-thin control in a chamber split 50-50, with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris.
Asked how much pressure he faced from Republican colleagues and others within the party to run, Grassley said he was "only under my own pressure," to finish work he's begun on issues to "lower the cost of prescription drugs, give independent cattle producers a fair market, secure our border, protect the renewable fuel standard, and hold government accountable to the people."
Grassley could face a GOP primary challenger next year. State Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, announced earlier this year he’s running for the U.S. Senate.
Grassley, though, enjoys widespread support among Iowa Republicans, and his re-election is expected to help the party avoid a contentious primary that could provide an opening for Democrats to pick up a seat in what will be an fierce battle next year of the Senate majority.
According a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll released this week, 81% of Iowa Republicans rate Grassley favorably; just 14% of Democrats do.
"The road to a Republican majority runs right through Iowa," Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. "Defending this seat should be a top priority for every Iowan looking to stop Joe Biden's chaotic agenda. Sen. Grassley's never-quit attitude has propelled him to be one of the most effective Senators in our state's history."
On the Democratic side, former Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer of Cedar Rapids, Dave Muhlbauer of Manilla, former Crawford County supervisor and Glenn Hurst, a physician from Minden, have announced plans to run for their party’s 2022 U.S. Senate nomination.
The latest Iowa Poll showed Grassley leading Finkenauer by 18 percentage points among likely Iowa voters in an early test of the race. Grassley won re-election in 2016 by 25 percentage points over Democratic former Iowa Lt. Governor and Focus on Rural America co-founder Patty Judge.
"It's nice to know that Senator Grassley still goes for a jog as the sun rises every day, but that doesn't mean he's fit for office," Judge said in a statement. "Grassley has had 40 years to improve the lives of rural Iowans, but during that time the divides between rural and non-rural communities have only increased," as rural Iowans struggle to find jobs, reasonable housing, high-speed internet and nearby health care.
"Where's Grassley been?" Judge added. "His time's up. It's time we elect someone who will deliver."
A sagging approval rating
Grassley's approval rating among Iowans has dropped to one of lowest points of his career. According to the Register's Iowa Poll, 47% of Iowans approve of the job Grassley's doing. Another 40% disapprove and 13% are not sure.
Asked of those Iowans who worry he's been in office for too long, Grassley said Iowans "have had a chance to vote me out of office, and they've approved what I've done."
Linda Miller, director of the Iowa Department on Aging, who attended Grassley's visit at the Davenport Country Club, said she's thankful Grassley has chosen to seek another term.
Miller said Grassley’s bipartisan leadership and seniority has delivered solutions for Iowa in key policy areas, including health care.
"He's worked bipartisan with so many people," Miller said. "They all know he's willing to do what it takes to try to solve the problems, rather than play politics. I so appreciate that."
Miller added she has no reservations about Grassley's age.
"He can outdo me so I'm thinking that's good enough," Miller said. "I truly do think people underestimate (the value of) seniority in the Senate. And when you're the top person on whatever committee you're going to get appointed to ... you have the ranking ability to be able to control the agenda. That's a powerful thing. And I think people who aren't in politics underestimate that degree of just having the visibility.'
Critics countered Grassley’s homespun approach Friday, with Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic calling him a career politician who is “trotting out a tired agenda."
“After six decades as a career politician, it’s no shock that Senator Grassley wants to remain in office," Sinovic said in a statement. "Unfortunately he has spent that time abandoning Iowa families, staining the Supreme Court with his petty partisan agenda, and living in the pocket of wealthy pharmaceutical companies while opposing Medicare being able to negotiate more affordable drug prices."
Finkenauer issued a statement, saying Grassley has changed during his time in Washington D.C. "from an Iowa farmer to just another coastal elite."
Ross Wilburn, a state representative from Ames who is chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said Grassley "pretends to be independent from politics, but Iowans know better."
“Chuck didn’t think working families deserved the Child Tax Credit, he voted against a bipartisan investigation into the deadly attack on the U.S Capitol, and he flip-flopped to get Trump’s nominee on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Winburn added in a statement. “He’s turned into the typical Washington politician he claims to despise.”