116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — The admiral will lead Iowa Democrats into this fall’s U.S. Senate campaign.
In something of an upset, Mike Franken, a U.S. Navy veteran from Sioux City, earned the Democratic nomination Tuesday in Iowa’s U.S. Senate campaign, handily beating former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer of Cedar Rapids by 15 percentage points.
Franken, who was runner-up in the 2020 Democratic primary for another Iowa U.S. Senate seat, made his second attempt count. Just before midnight Tuesday, with all but one of the state’s 99 counties reporting, Franken had secured 55.1 percent of the votes cast by Iowa Democrats, according to preliminary state elections results.
With his victory, Franken earned a date with longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in this fall’s Nov. 8 general election.
“Tonight, you have bestowed upon me a great honor. And I assume the responsibility to win this election,” Franken told a meeting of a few dozen supporters Tuesday night at a junior high school in Des Moines. “What must happen, is we must beat Chuck Grassley.”
Finkenauer, a former congresswoman and the perceived leader coming into this campaign, had 39.9 percent of the vote.
At roughly 9:30 p.m. at her campaign’s event in Cedar Rapids, Finkenauer thanked her supporters, telling them she had just congratulated the retired admiral for running “one heck of a race.”
“He won in a way that will bring Democrats together to do what has to be done — beat Chuck Grassley,” she told about two dozen supporters who had gathered at NewBo City Market.
Finkenauer, who suffered her second defeat in as many election cycles, told the disappointed backers that because of what the three Democrats did in the primary, “talking to folks, educating people about Chuck Grassley and what he has become, a Democrat will beat that man.”
Glenn Hurst, a physician from Minden and a third Democratic candidate, had earned 4.8 percent of the vote.
Grassley staved off a primary challenge Tuesday, winning with 74.1 percent of the votes by Iowa Republicans that were counted as of Tuesday night. Jim Carlin, a lawyer and state legislator from Sioux City, had received 25.8 percent of the vote.
The 88-year-old Grassley is seeking an eighth, six-year term in the U.S. Senate.
“Quite a victory. I love serving the people of Iowa,” Grassley said in an audio statement distributed by his campaign. “Now that the primary’s over, I want everybody to unite so we can have a big victory in November. A big victory in Iowa contributes to Republicans taking over control of the United States Senate and House of Representatives.”
Grassley will enter the general election campaign as the favorite. His six re-election campaign victories have been by a staggering average of 35 percentage points.
Grassley’s campaign was quick Tuesday night to allege that Franken is the “most liberal Iowa Democrat nominee in history,” and asserted that Franken will be “another yes-man for (Democratic President Joe) Biden’s radical liberal policies that put America on the wrong track.”
Republicans will seek to pair Franken with Biden in voters’ eyes because the president has low approval ratings in Iowa. Just 35 percent of Iowans approve of Biden’s performance as president while 59 disapprove, according to the most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, from early March.
Franken, who grew up in Lebanon, Iowa, argued throughout the primary campaign that he was best-equipped to face Grassley in this fall’s general election, that he was better-suited than Finkenauer or Hurst to woo middle-of-the-road Iowa voters, and perhaps even pick off some Republicans who feel Grassley has been in the U.S. Senate for too long.
On the campaign trail, Franken has highlighted his public service in the U.S. Navy — he retired as an admiral. In addition to his command positions, he also worked in the Pentagon for the U.S. Department of Defense, and on U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s staff.
“Time for change. Iowans wants something different. Too much of that. Something new,” Franken told reporters Tuesday night. “I represent a person who’s a humanitarian, who’s gifted in describing what kind of infrastructure the state can do. I’m a farmer at root. I’m a grandson of homesteaders. I think that relates to Iowans. And being in the military, that was an occupation that sets well for this as well.”
Grassley has argued that his experience and tenure in the U.S. Senate are vital to Iowans. He has noted that if he is elected to the Senate and Republicans retain the majority, he would return as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which among other things holds hearings on federal judicial nominations including for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“So we work hard between now and November the 8th, and by doing that, we will save America from the bad policies of the socialistic endeavors of the progressive left, which President Biden has succumbed to,” Grassley said in an audio statement.
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James Q. Lynch of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.