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DES MOINES — Iowa voters need to reject partisan politics and gather around a unifying message, Democrat Mike Franken told a crowd at the Iowa State Fair on Monday.
Franken, who is seeking to topple longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in the November Senate election in Iowa, said he wanted Iowans to put “country over party” and “people over politics,” and rejuvenate the state’s socially progressive roots.
He noted Iowa was among the first states to legalize same-sex marriage and implement environmentally conscious agriculture practices, and noted that Iowa universities were among the first to allow women in graduate school.
Franken’s less than 10-minute speech at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox was light on policy and highlighted his background as a Navy admiral and growing up on a family farm around Sioux City.
“This is the Iowa that leaned forward, and I’m so happy to be in the political party, not to get overly political, which has a reputation of leaning forward in society,” he said.
Among the Democratic Party’s accomplishments, Franken said, have been women’s suffrage, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
Franken served almost 40 years in the U.S. Navy, reaching the rank of vice admiral and directing military operations in Africa, as well as working in congressional affairs.
Grassley first won election to the U.S. Senate in 1980, and he’s won by at least 20 percentage points in every election since then.
Polling shows this election is Grassley’s most competitive. The Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows Franken 8 percentage points behind the Republican senator, with 39 percent of support compared with Grassley’s 47 percent.
Without mentioning Grassley by name, Franken noted his absence among the candidates speaking at the soapbox.
“I wish all candidates would stand up here and have a discussion,” he said. “And those that don’t want a discussion up here, please let’s at least have a debate.”
Franken has challenged Grassley to four debates ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
Grassley was at the fair Monday, sharing on Twitter that he visited a prizewinning bull and met with Veterans Affairs representatives and members of the Iowa National Guard at the veterans parade.
In an emailed statement, Grassley’s campaign spokesperson Michaela Sundermann derided Franken for his support of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, which she said was hurting middle-class families.
"Iowans don't need another liberal rubber stamp for the Biden agenda in Washington, D.C.,” Sundermann said. “Chuck Grassley is the inflation fighter. Iowans want to get America and our economy back on the right track. We have a proven leader in Sen. Chuck Grassley. The senator we need is the senator we've got."
Speaking with reporters after his speech, Franken said he would have voted for the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, and he said the climate provisions made it a seminal moment for the U.S. going forward.
“We have 240,000 Iowans that are diabetics. This measure gives them budget relief for their health care,” he said regarding insulin prices. “This and more is what is in the future in the United States. And it’s zero cost to the taxpayer.”
An estimate from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that the Senate-passed version of the bill would reduce the federal deficit by $264 billion over 10 years. It also found that the effect on inflation is “statistically indistinguishable from zero” and most of the tax increases in the bill fall on people with higher income.
Franken told reporters he is closing in on completing a 99-county tour of the state, a tradition his Republican opponent originated in 1980 and is often dubbed “The Full Grassley.” In the counties he has visited, Franken said he’s seeing a “sea change” in support for his campaign.
“Things are changing,” he said.
“People want change. They want something less cantankerous, less controversial, less animus. They want to see something to congeal together, they want to renew friendships, they want families to get together again. They don’t want this.”