He may be known as “Senator-for-life” Charles Grassley in Iowa, but that doesn’t mean farmers in a number of other states wouldn’t relish the idea of seeing him forced into retirement.

Grassley, who has served in the Senate for 28 years, has seemed unbeatable for most of that time, rolling up impressive victories every six years as Democrats were unable to mount more than token opposition.

But political pundits are beginning to see cracks in his armor following some highly publicized incidents involving the senator in connection with the health care debate and his opposition to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

Three Democrats have announced they plan to campaign for their party’s nomination to run against Grassley next year. Grassley has faced opposition before, but not from so many potential candidates this far ahead of the general election, according to political columnists with the Des Moines Register.

And rumor has it that another candidate with the financial backing needed to challenge a well-entrenched incumbent is preparing to announce for the race. (Think about the money it would take to unseat Republicans Thad Cochran in Mississippi or Kit Bond in Missouri.)

Earlier this summer, Grassley became an Internet celebrity by telling a group that if a questioner didn’t like his current health plan, he “should come to work for the government.” (An aide had to help the senator answer a follow-up question about the deductible members of Congress pay for doctor’s visits or hospital stays.)

Video of the incident was played countless times on the Internet, making Grassley a poster boy for health care reform advocates.

Since the August recess, Grassley has been seen on tape at Iowa town hall meetings, saying Sen. Ted Kennedy, fighting a brain tumor, would “need a bodyguard if the Democrats get what they want out of health care.”

That and other comments by Grassley landed would-be opponent Bob Krause on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. Krause, a former state legislator and transportation official, said he thought Grassley was laying the foundation for walking away from the health care reform negotiations.

“He realizes there is no compromise, and he played this string as long as he can,” said Krause. “When the election rolls around he can present himself as a moderate, but his history has been to vote with the hard-core right Republicans almost exclusively.”

Iowans are beginning to see what farmers in other states have learned from years of watching Grassley’s approach to imposing unrealistic payment limits on commercial-sized farmers. That is, once the senator gets an idea in his head, nothing can change his mind.

Defeating Grassley will take a major effort – he has a war chest estimated at $3 million and strong support statewide. But farmers in and out of Iowa will be watching the race intently.

email: flaws@farmpress.com