Braley v Grassley: Trial Lawyer’s `Farmer’ Slap Starts Iowa Brushfire, Prompts Apology

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) gives a tour of the U.S. Captiol to a group of constituents from Clear Lake, Iowa, in Statuary Hall on Oct. 4, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Updated at 4:15 pm EDT

After decades of consolidation in the agriculture industry, there aren’t nearly as many Iowa farmers as there once were.

Still, virtually everyone in the state has family or professional ties to farmers and the rural economy. That’s what makes so potentially damaging the statement made by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley captured on video during a private fundraiser he attended in Texas.

In the video, the presumptive Democratic nominee warns that “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school” might become the next Judiciary Committee chairman  if Republicans win control of the  Senate this fall.

The reference was to Iowa’s senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, a revered figure in the state who continues to score strong approval ratings.

“I apologize to Senator Grassley and anyone I may have offended,” Braley said today in a statement issued by his campaign. “I respect Senator Grassley and enjoy our working relationship even though we disagree on some issues. But there is a clear choice in this race between Mark Jacobs and my other opponents who support policies that are bad for Iowa farmers, and the work I’ve done hand in hand with Iowa farmers to grow Iowa’s farm economy and create good paying Iowa farm jobs.”

Some are already calling it Braley’s “47 percent” moment, a reference to the damaging gaffe Mitt Romney made during the 2012 presidential campaign that also was captured on video at a fundraiser. (He suggested that 47 percent of the electorate is dependent on the government and unreachable by his party.)

Republican operatives in Iowa, fanning the flames, circulated the video in an effort to embarrass Braley, a trial lawyer who is now a member of the House.

“To put this in stark contrast, if you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone’s who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary Committee or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Braley is shown saying in the video.“If Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

“My parents both grew up on Iowa farms during the Great Depression,” Braley said in his apology and explanation today. “It deeply influenced who they are and who I am, and gave me a profound appreciation for what farmers do for the world. One of my grandfathers was a charter member o the Iowa Farm Bureau. I grew up in rural Iowa, doing farm jobs and working a grain elevator. I have tremendous respect for Iowa farmers and appreciate how important they are to our state, and I’m grateful to have the support of hundreds of farmers across Iowa.”

Some Iowans — Republicans, independents and even some Democrats — might like that. Grassley is the ranking Republican on the committee.

The video’s release appears to be politically timed with today’s unveiling of a Norman Borlaug statue at the U.S. Capitol. Borlaug was an Iowan who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in combating world hunger.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is playing it hard:

“Once again, trial lawyer Bruce Braley is proving how grossly out of touch he is. Not only is Bruce Braley no friend to farmers, but no friend to Iowans,” said NRSC Press Secretary Brook Hougesen. “Bruce Braley might be trained to fool a jury, but his double talking persona and liberal views aren’t going to fool middle class Iowans. At the end of the day, he’s just another slick trial lawyer turned slick politician that would leave Iowans to reap what Bruce Braley sowed.”

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