“Think Big, Vote Small.” That slogan, which adorns T-shirts for sale on the campaign Web site of former Iowa state Sen. Art Small (D), encapsulates the gargantuan challenge before him this fall.
Small is the Democratic nominee against Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the most powerful figures on Capitol Hill with a reputation as an aggressive campaigner regardless of his opponent. [IMGCAP(1)]
Since winning the seat in 1980, Grassley has been elected with 66 percent, 70 percent and 68 percent, despite the swing nature of the state.
“Senator Grassley is respectful of the voters and takes no election for granted,”
said spokeswoman Jill Kozeny. “His campaign has only one gear and that is high gear.”
She added that Grassley opened his re-election campaign office earlier than ever before and has raised more money than at this point in any of his previous races.
Grassley ended March with nearly $6 million in the bank. Small has not yet filed a financial report with the Federal Election Commission.
Grassley “has an incredible amount of money,” acknowledged Small. “You name the special interest and he’s gotten money from them.”
But, Small said, this race will not be decided on who has more money — the constant chorus of the massive underdog.
“I am going to hammer away on issues and ask the question of what [Grassley] has done for the state of Iowa,” said Small.
He points to Grassley’s role in passing the tax cuts pushed by President Bush and the Medicare prescription drug bill as evidence that the Senator is out of step with the average Iowa voter.
Small’s own agenda is decidedly liberal and includes support for a single-payer health care system.
Small said he had grown increasingly upset with the direction of the country over the past few years — “I found myself hungering for the good old days of Richard Nixon,” he said — and decided to make the race against Grassley when no big-name Democrat stepped up.
“Most of the other rich and famous people who one might have hoped to step forward and take on this race ducked,” said Small.
The two Democrats most often mentioned for the seat were Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson and Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver.
With Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) set to step down after two terms in 2006, both passed on a challenge to Grassley that was seen, at best, as a chance to raise their statewide profiles in advance of the gubernatorial race.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D) won a fourth term in 2002 and is expected to stand for at least one more re-election battle.
With no big names willing to take the plunge, Small stepped into the void, returning to electoral politics at the age of 71, 16 years removed from his last political race.
Small’s first experience in politics came in the mid-1960s when he worked as a legislative assistant to then-1st district Rep. John Schmidhauer (D).
In 1970, Small was elected in his own right to the Iowa state House and eight years later won a seat in the state Senate. He retired from that body in 1986.
Aside from his state legislative experience, Small is something of a jack-of-all-trades, having worked as a trumpet player, construction worker and dishwasher. He even owned a legislative news service.
“I have a wide background,” said Small. “I don’t have a lot of wealth, but I have a wealth of experience.”
Small said he doesn’t run through the litany of jobs he has held at campaign appearances but will talk about them when asked.
He added that his wide-ranging professional experience gives him an understanding of the struggles that everyday Iowans confront.
“I know that if you come from a background without much money how difficult it is for people to get through college and get an education,” Small said. “It is not an abstract.”