In wake of video, Braley controversy continues

Braley defended his record on agriculture issues

Ed Tibbetts
Published: March 26 2014 | 11:54 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:11 am in


DAVENPORT — A day after a video taken at a Texas fundraiser shook up the U.S. Senate race in Iowa, the controversy continued to reverberate Wednesday with several developments.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, went from apologizing to mounting a more vigorous defense of his record on agriculture, as well as a more pointed attack against a rival.

A conservative advocacy group, took to the airwaves with a $250,000 10-day TV ad campaign to rip Braley for the fundraiser comments, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad separately called the congressman's remarks a sign of his "arrogance."

Meanwhile, a figure at the center of the story, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, refused to address the criticism personally on a call with reporters Wednesday.

A video posted Tuesday to YouTube shows Braley telling people at a January fundraiser at a Corpus Christi law firm that they faced the prospect that Grassley, "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school (and) never practiced law," would become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if Republicans won control of the Senate.

Republicans said the comment denigrated farmers and Grassley, and they took to social media to denounce the congressman.

Braley apologized. But after GOP Senate hopeful Mark Jacobs said Wednesday he had begun running a statewide radio ad campaign criticizing the remarks, Braley responded.

Braley's campaign said he had backed farm-friendly legislation, such as the Renewable Fuel Standard, and it provided a list of testimonials from farmers who support him.

Jeff Giertz, a spokesman, said Braley had been "fighting for policies that help Iowa farmers and strengthen the middle class ..." By contrast, he called Jacobs a "Goldman Sachs executive" who called for "a return to the days when Wall Street titans like Jacobs crashed our economy."

Jacobs, a retired energy executive who previously worked for Goldman Sachs, has been a frequent target of Braley's campaign.

Alissa Ohl, a Jacobs spokeswoman, responded by saying Braley was trying to distract attention after being caught "red-handed and red-faced" for his fundraiser comments.

She said Jacobs supports the Renewable Fuel Standard, but that unlike Braley, he also backs free-trade agreements and repeal of the estate tax.

"There is no recovering from Bruce Braley's offensive comments, not even a bad attempt at ignoring Mark’s stances on agriculture," she said.

Jacobs is running for the GOP nomination along with Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, college professor and radio show host Sam Clovis and Scott Schaben, an auto dealer.

Also Wednesday, Priorities for Iowa, a conservative advocacy group that is run by former aides to Mitt Romney, said it had begun airing a new TV ad campaign.

In the ad, a narrator says, "we'd rather bet the farm on Grassley than a bunch of trial lawyers from Texas.”

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad also weighed in personally on the controversy.

"I think it will be a huge issue. I think it will be very damaging. I think it shows his arrogance that he thinks only a trial lawyer can be the chairman of the judiciary committee," Branstad told reporters in Des Moines, according to the Associated Press.

In a sign Democrats were beginning to come to Braley's defense, the party arranged a conference call with former Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who told reporters that Braley "misspoke" but that Branstad was trying to divert attention himself from more than $400,000 in payments to former state workers who had signed confidential settlement agreements with state agencies.

The governor has said he knew nothing about the agreements and criticized them at a news conference Monday.

Outside of Iowa, the Braley controversy continued to grow on social media. The YouTube video showing the Braley's remarks had gone from just a few hundred views Tuesday afternoon to more than 56,000 by Wednesday afternoon.

For his part, Grassley steered clear of addressing the matter Wednesday.

On a conference call with Iowa reporters, he referred to a statement issued by his staff Tuesday that praised his record on the Judiciary Committee.

Even when pressed to make a comment, Grassley said he would have nothing to add.

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