DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge has decided to run for the seat held by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, sensing that he is politically vulnerable as a champion of the Republican strategy to stonewall any Supreme Court nomination from President Barack Obama before the November election, Democrats in Iowa and Washington said on Thursday.
The Democrats, who know about Judge's intentions but are not authorized to discuss them ahead of Friday's planned announcement, said she would face off in a primary against Iowa state Sen. Rob Hogg, the only Democratic candidate to officially file papers to run so far.
Judge is a registered nurse, family farmer, state senator and the first woman to be elected Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Two other Democrats who have run against Grassley have said they're considering it again.
Judge did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Grassley, 82, has not lost a general election in more than 50 years, usually getting in excess of 60 percent of the vote. First elected to the Iowa Legislature in 1958, he has served in Congress since 1974 including six years in the U.S. House and 36 years in the Senate.
"I can't do anything about anybody running against me," Grassley said Wednesday when asked about a Judge candidacy.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he would control any Supreme Court hearing to vet a nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died unexpectedly last month in Texas.
Grassley, taking a lead from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, insists there will be no hearings for an Obama nominee. Their primary argument has been that voters in this November's general election should decide whether a Democrat or a Republican president appoints a replacement for the conservative Scalia's seat.
Republicans fear that if Obama is allowed to appoint a liberal justice to the court, it would tip the majority of the nine member court.
It's not a foregone conclusion that Judge will win a Democratic primary.
Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Senate President Pat Jochum said they're firmly behind Hogg.
Jack Hatch, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2014 and a former state senator said Judge may have problems in Des Moines. She joined an agriculture coalition last year that criticized the state's largest city for suing upstream counties over river nitrate pollution. He said liberal voters in a Democratic primary may have doubts about her on the issue of the environment.
The Democrats' battle cry has been to call for Grassley to do his job and at least hold a hearing when Obama sends a Supreme Court nominee.
Grassley on Wednesday stuck to that position, but in a conference call with reporters Grassley argued against any attempt by Obama to seat a justice who would have "empathy."
"The president expresses often that he wants to appoint judges or justices that have empathy," Grassley said, explaining that justices should only decide cases based on the Constitution and the law and leave their own personal views out.
"And yet we have a president of the United States wanting to bring these personal views into the deciding of a case," Grassley said.
In Iowa, a coalition of liberal citizen action groups calling itself Why Courts Matter Iowa held protests Thursday at seven of Grassley's offices including those in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The protesters said they delivered 36,000 signatures on a petition asking for Supreme Court nominee hearings along with copies of the U.S. Constitution to his offices.
In Washington, tensions boiled over Thursday when Grassley tried to move an unrelated committee vote out of public view. He later postponed the hearing after Democratic complaints. Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy noted that committee Republicans had also met behind closed doors when they made the decision not to hold Supreme Court hearings.
"I believe the American people have a right to see and hear what we are doing," said Leahy.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid also kept up the pressure on Grassley, saying on the Senate floor Thursday that "working behind closed doors is becoming a theme for Senator Grassley and the Judiciary Committee."
At a news conference, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Senate Democrats criticized Republicans' decision not to hold hearings or a vote and held up copies of the Constitution.
Barbara Rodriguez in Des Moines and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.