Grassley on the Presidential Field: Clinton Hard to Beat, Huckabee "Catching On a Bit"
DES MOINES - In 1996, Bob Dole credited Charles Grassley's endorsement as a key reason that he won the Iowa caucus and clinched the Republican presidential nomination.
This year, the popular veteran Iowa senator said he may skip picking a favorite, because he's skeptical that any Republican in the field can put away Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Like many of his GOP friends, Grassley believes she can be defeated, and with greater ease than some other Democrats in the field. But Grassley is still waiting for Mr. Right. "I want to know who can beat Hillary," Grassley said over a breakfast fit for the farmer that he is - three eggs, four sausages, and five pancakes.
Grassley's ideal is a Republican who can preserve the party's strength in red states, but also compete in some of the more conservative blue states - the formula President Bush used in 2000. The war in Iraq has made the political environment hostile for Republicans, Grassley conceded, but the general election is still a year away. And Democrats haven't exactly enhanced their status since winning control of Congress in November.
"I see (Rudy) Giuliani," said Grassley. "'I'm cognizant of the fact that he's high in the polls. But is he strong enough to bring us over the top in those (moderate) states? Giuliani will be stronger in some blue states, but he may not win them - as opposed to somebody who may not have a chance in the blue states, but getting us enough votes out here to win."
There is a darkhorse candidate in the GOP field. "I think the guy who could surprise everybody is Huckabee," Grassley said, referring to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a second-tier candidate with minimal resources, whose support has been rising. "He seems to be catching on a little bit. His presentations are good. He fits in well with social conservatives."
Huckabee is the guy who matches up best with Iowa Republicans, Grassley said. "It's demeanor, background, personal beliefs, friendliness, stuff like that. How he conducts himself, things of that nature. I'm talking about who fits in with the average Iowan, who are they going to feel comfortable with."
So why not endorse him? Because, Grassley explained, he's not yet a national contender. "If he had $10 mllion to spend on television, to reinforce what he tells you personally, then I think it would make a difference," Grassley said.
Grassley said he is surprised that two darkhorses on the Democratic side - Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson - aren't attracting more support in Iowa. The two longtime public officials would seem to make strong general election contenders. But Grassley warned Republicans to be careful of what they wish for with Clinton. "We've always been taking the Clintons for granated," said Grassley. "We can't take them for granted anymore. They're tough competitors."
November 10, 2007; 3:56 PM ET
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