Democratic Iowa farmer running for GOP Sen. Grassley's seat

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, listens during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Washington. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, listens during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Washington. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Dave Muhlbauer, an Iowa farmer and a former county supervisor, on Monday became the first Democrat to announce he is running for Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley's seat.

In a campaign video that shows farm scenes and small towns, Muhlbauer says onetime rural Democrats “just feel like Democrats are leaving rural areas high and dry.” He portrays himself as vested in the future of struggling rural America as a fifth-generation farmer.

“It's who me and my family are, and that drives me to want to make Iowa the best it can be for everybody,” he says in the video.

Muhlbauer's candidacy marks a shift in strategy for Democrats, who haven’t won a Senate or governor's race in Iowa in more than a decade. While Republicans in the state frequently put forth rural candidates, Democrats in recent years have tended to choose people from more urban backgrounds. The move also comes months after Republican Donald Trump carried the onetime presidential battleground of Iowa for a second time by posting larger vote totals and winning margins in the state’s vast rural tracts.

Grassley, a powerful seven-term senator, is 87 and has said he will announce whether he plans to run again by autumn. At 37 and a half century younger, Muhlbauer provides a stark generational contrast, though he has little name recognition statewide.

Muhlbauer, the former vice chair of the Crawford County Board of Supervisors, said in an interview with The Associated Press that bringing more rural Americans back to the Democratic Party will require not just someone who speaks to them, but also someone who can tie economic and environmental policy together with authority.

“Farmers, at the end of the day, watch the bottom dollar," Muhlbauer said. “When you can create conservation as a commodity, they'll jump on board because it's best for them to enhance their farm, and that ripples through rural Iowa."

Grassley, a longtime farmer, co-owns 750 acres (3 square kilometers) of corn and soybean farmland in northeast Iowa. He has long campaigned as an Iowa farmer.