Once-hopeful Iowa Democrats running uphill against Sen. Grassley

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – When Michael Franken won the Democratic Senate nomination in June, many in Iowa’s disaffected party thought they had landed on a candidate who might — possibly — reverse their candidacy humiliating slide in the state.

After all, the retired Navy admiral won 76 out of 99 districts in all regions of the state, particularly in conservative north and western Iowa. His reluctance during the first campaign to support gun bans and college loan forgiveness were signs he wanted to appeal to moderate Democrats and even some fed-up Republicans Incumbent Chuck Grassley after four decades in office.

But those ambitions are beginning to wane as Election Day, November 8, approaches. Franken’s drive to unseat the longest-serving Republican in the Senate was hurt by allegations that the Democrat kissed a former campaign worker without permission. Franken’s campaign has denied the claim.

He has previously defied skeptics, beating the better-known and better-funded former MP Abby Finkenauer in elementary school. Nonetheless, many Democrats recognize that a race that has always been viewed as a long shot risks going firmly out of reach.

For Democrat Marcia Nichols, the former longtime political director of Iowa’s largest public employee union, the accusation “whatever it is, it’s made it even tougher now.” But she noted that Franken took on Finkenauer, “who was quite popular, and beat her by a mile. I’m not writing him off.”

The obstacles seemed far away during a recent campaign halt, when Franken in his standard Navy ball cap on a warm early fall afternoon in the suburb of Des Moines called on hundreds of supporters to rally Republicans who might want a change after 42 years of Grassley in the Senate.

“Iowans wake up every day doing hard things,” Franken said. “That takes a lot of courage in today’s environment.”

To win, Franken would have to share voters with the Republican governor. Kim Reynoldsa devout social conservative and passionate donald trump Supporter to be preferred in her re-election campaign. He would have to brave a decade-long rise of Republicans in Iowa, which will be even more difficult in an election year when the majority of Congressional Democrats are facing economic headwinds tepid approval of Democratic President Joe Biden.

Franken’s challenges are part of a broader reversal of fortunes for the Democrats.

A decade ago, Grassley and five-year-old progressive Democrat Tom Harkin were senators from Iowa. Democrats held three of five seats in the US House of Representatives and a slim majority in the Senate. Today, West Des Moines Rep. Cindy Axne is Iowa’s only Democrat in Congress and she is being recognized as one of the weakest in her party this fall. The GOP’s influence in the Statehouse is the party’s longest in more than six decades.

Franconia’s overwhelming primary victory offered the Democrats an opportunity.

A month after the primary, Franken was just 8 percentage points behind Grassley in a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll of likely voters. This pointed to a potentially closer race than Grassley has seen since his victory over Democratic Sen. John Culver in 1980.

Without the help of the Senate Democrats’ national campaign arm, Franken has raised a remarkable $8.3 million this year, including $3.6 million in the third quarter. Grassley had reported raising $7.5 million by the end of July but did not release his total for the July-September period. This report is due by October 15th.

The majority job approval that Grassley has had in Des Moines Register polls for about two decades has recently plummeted: it was in uncharted territory, standing at 46% in the July poll.

64% of likely voters reporting the postponement said in a June 2021 Des Moines Register poll they didn’t want him to run again because they had the choice of seeing someone else in office or the senator for one to be re-elected for another term.

The change in sentiment comes as Grassley, who entered the Senate as a Ronald Reagan-era fiscal conservative, has sought to adjust to bipartisan Trump-era politics.

Faced with pointed questions from voters last year about why he refused to say that Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 election, Grassley analyzed his language to indirectly suggest that Biden is president, as a result of the electoral college vote count.

About two-thirds of Republicans at the national level said they don’t think Biden was legitimately elected according to a July 2021 survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

A year ago, Grassley beamed when Trump supported him at a rally in Des Moines that drew 10,000 to the Iowa state fairgrounds, where the former president falsely claimed he won the 2020 election. “I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement,” Grassley told the audience, noting Trump’s comfortable victory in Iowa in that race.

Grassley has fought little in public. He has relied more on television advertising, from which he is often critical of Franken for making comments on the state’s conduct under Republican leadership.

Grassley turned 89 last month and says he has no qualms about completing another six-year term – he would be 95 at the end of an eighth term. “Absolutely not,” he said during a news conference on Wednesday.

He went through his daily schedule, which he said included getting up at 4 a.m., running 2 miles six days a week, and arriving at his office at 6 a.m

“Unless God intervenes, I will be in the Senate for six years,” he added.

Franken has stayed aloof from Grassley’s age, instead citing Grassley’s tenure as his primary guilt. “We deserve better than a lifetime senator,” the Democrat said.

Franken has called Grassley’s praise for the Supreme Court decision stripping women of their constitutional right to have an abortion as at odds with Iowa, where polls show a majority of voters support keeping abortion legal.

Franken, who supports the passage of legislation making abortion a federal right, had a modest advantage among women’s likely voters in the Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll in July.

But the release of a police report detailing the unwanted kiss with the former campaign worker has raised questions from some would-be Franken supporters. The campaign manager made a public statement that the allegation in the report was untrue and the police called it unfounded.

Elizabeth Sibers, a 22-year-old Iowa State University student from Waukee who attended Franken’s rally, said she wants him to at least speak out against harassment.

“It worries me. He has to take the time to address it,” she said. Sibers remains open to voting for him, saying she wants to “give Franken a chance to grow from it, not just look past it.”

Grassley said he doesn’t plan to raise it as a campaign issue. But when Franken called him “anti-woman” for overthrowing Roe v. Backed up by Wade, Grassley replied quickly and succinctly.

“You’re in no position to teach me about women,” he said. “You are in no position to do this.”


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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/10/08/once-hopeful-iowa-democrats-running-uphill-vs-sen-grassley/ Once-hopeful Iowa Democrats running uphill against Sen. Grassley

Sarah Y. Kim

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