A Des Moines attorney who once ran for governor is nearly ready to start a race for one of Iowa’s U.S. Senate seats. Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, plans to seek a sixth term in the senate in 2010 and Democrat Roxanne Conlin may emerge as a challenger. 

“I’m leaning heavily toward running against Senator Grassley,” Conlin says.  “I have things involving clients that I need to get through. I want to make sure that everyone I have a responsibility for is in good shape and I’m going to make a decision in the next month.” 

 Two men from eastern Iowa who once served in the state legislature have announced they intend to seek the Democratic Party’s U.S. senate nomination. But Conlin appears to be the “first round draft pick” the Democratic Party’s chairman said last month would emerge to challenge Grassley.  Conlin says she’s heard from “a lot of Iowans” who are unhappy with Grassley.

“Even though he is someone I like and someone for whom I have respect for his 50 years of public service, my feeling is that he has simply lost touch with Iowans,” Conlin says. “I don’t like the way that he has been voting. I would be voting differently.” 

Conlin specifically cites Grassley’s conduct during the health care debate. “Certainly this summer’s events, with him telling people that they should be afraid that the government is going to be deciding when to pull the plug on grandma — that is not true. That is not right,” Conlin says.  “And he’s saying that to Iowans while he’s out in Washington pretending that he’s engaging in a bipartisan effort to find the answer.” 

After weeks of closed door negotiations with a bipartisan group of senators from the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley ended up voting against the health care reform plan which passed the panel this month.

Conlin was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor in 1982, losing to Republican Terry Branstad.  Conlin’s name hasn’t been on an Iowa ballot in the 27 years since then, but Conlin says she’s been “completely” immersed in Democratic Party politics.

“I haven’t been out of politics for a moment, ever,” Conlin says, with a laugh. “I have been actively involved with other candidates, other causes.” 

Conlin traveled the state extensively in 2003 and again in 2007 as she campaigned for presidential candidate and fellow trial lawyer John Edwards.  Conlin says she reconnected with many people during those travels and that’s one of the factors prompting her to be a candidate for the U.S. senate.

“People have been reaching out to me.  I have just been overwhelmed and humbled by the support that people are expressing and that goes a long way, too, in my thinking,” Conlin says. “I think I will have broad, widespread support if I decide to do this.” 

Conlin, though, says she expects to be answering questions about some controversial chapters in her life.   “I’m girding myself for anything,” Conlin says, with a laugh. “I know that it’s gotten uglier and uglier and, frankly, I don’t think people like that very well, but it’s done because people say it works, but I’m not going to do it.  I’m going to stick with the issues. I’m going to talk about how we differ, but I absolutely refuse to attack Senator Grassley on a personal level. I don’t expect that that favor will be returned.” 

Conlin says she expects to be able to withstand the scrutiny a campaign will bring.

“Certainly I’ve made mistakes. Certainly there are things about which I can be criticized,” Conlin says. “But I think that I have led a decent life.  I think that there is nobody who walks the face of the earth that doesn’t have some baggage to carry along with them. I’m a pretty tough person.  I don’t think there’s anything that they can say about me that I won’t be able to answer and that I won’t be able to withstand.” 

Conlin, who is 65, is a nationally-recognized attorney who was the first woman to serve as president of the American Trial Lawyers Association.