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It’s no surprise that a key Iowa legislative race would attract donations from key political players, particularly several Senate Republicans and one GOP governor with their eye on the White House in 2008.
But Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), in a rare bipartisan gesture in the increasingly caustic Abramoff era, took the bold step of cutting a $1,000 check to a 22-year-old political neophyte running for the Republican nomination to a state House seat in the northeastern corner of the Hawkeye State.
The candidate? Pat Grassley, grandson of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Finance Committee.
On Nov. 8, the younger Grassley’s campaign received a $1,000 check from Glacier PAC, the political action committee run by Baucus, the ranking member on Finance.
Together, Baucus and Grassley have developed one of the better chairman-ranking member relationships in the chamber, a situation that has at times alarmed the leadership of both parties who fear too much compromise on Finance matters might leave both political wings unhappy.
Baucus is not about to apologize for any financial help he gives to the grandson of his sometimes ally.
“Sen. Baucus and Sen. Grassley are close friends. Sometimes personal friendships are more important than political philosophy,” said Jim Messina, chief of staff to Baucus.
Local reports indicate that the district Pat Grassley is running in is heavily Republican — and once held by his grandfather in the 1950s — and not likely to produce a Democratic victor anytime soon.
Beyond the Baucus donation, the level of attention the 22-year-old candidate is generating from some of the biggest players in Washington seems to go beyond Senatorial courtesy to highlight the fact that it’s never too early to start gathering support for Iowa’s presidential caucuses, now less than two years away.
Little more than five years ago, Pat Grassley was catching passes in Iowa’s high school football state championship for Dike-New Hartford.
Now, he’s catching campaign donations from the PACs of a half-dozen of his grandfather’s colleagues, as well as that of New York Gov. George Pataki (R), according to reports filed with Iowa’s secretary of state.
Those donations totalled nearly $13,000 for the younger Grassley, who got the shot at running for the state House when Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) launched his gubernatorial bid and a political chain reaction created an opening in the state Legislature.
Among those who have donated to Pat Grassley’s nascent campaign are three Republicans considering a 2008 bid: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), whose Volunteer PAC gave $2,000 in October; Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), whose Sandhills PAC kicked in $2,000 in July; and Pataki, whose 21st Century Freedom PAC gave $1,000 in October.
Citizens for Pat Grassley also drew PAC checks from three other GOP Senators: Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (Ky.), $5,000; Lindsey Graham (S.C.), $1,500; and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), $100, according to the Iowa reports.
Officially, the donations are just a way of helping out a GOP candidate at the local level, but privately there’s already a courtship game playing out in Iowa and other key early states. No doubt Sen. Grassley will play a critical role in the caucuses — he has admitted to being very skeptical of President Bush upon their first meeting in 1998 or early 1999, but eventually warmed up to the future president.