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Caleb McCullough, Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Nov. 8, 2022 10:18 pm, Updated: Nov. 8, 2022 11:42 pm
DES MOINES — Republican Chuck Grassley will return to the U.S. Senate for an eighth term, overcoming an energized Democratic challenge Tuesday night that held him to his closest election fight in decades.
With most Iowa precincts reporting late Tuesday, Grassley held nearly 57 percent of the vote. Democratic challenger Mike Franken, a former Navy admiral, had campaigned to peel off independent and Republican support from the senator who has enjoyed broad crossover appeal in previous elections.
In an election that was a referendum on the 89-year-old statesman, Grassley’s campaign emphasized his long tenure in the Senate, portraying him as a bipartisan problem-solver whose seniority would benefit Iowans.
“Thanks all you for believing in me,” Grassley told a crowd of supporters in Des Moines after the race was called in his favor. “I believe in you, the great state of Iowa, and I believe in America.”
Grassley said the election was a mandate to continue championing conservative priorities in the Senate. He said he’d focus on reining in inflation and boosting energy production, increasing border security and rooting out what he sees as bias within federal agencies like the FBI.
Grassley attacked President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats during the campaign, saying high spending is responsible for inflation being at historic highs.
“We’ve been on a fast track to financial disaster. Now it will be a path back to fiscal sanity,” he said. “We’ll get there by continuing to listen to the wisdom of the American people and common sense Iowans.”
With several Senate races across the county still unresolved Tuesday night, it’s unclear where control of the chamber will lie. Should Republicans gain a majority, Grassley would reprise his role as president pro tempore of the Senate, the third in line for the presidency. He would also likely chair the powerful Judiciary Committee, which will give him broad discretion over Biden’s nominees to the federal bench and any potential Supreme Court nominees.
Franken, 64, hung his message to voters on the charge that Grassley had held office too long — if he finishes this six-year term, he will have been in the Senate for 48 years and held political office for 70.
Franken also accused Grassley of being a right-wing partisan and beholden to corporate interests. He leaned on his four-decade naval career, saying he would put “country over party,” and saying he had the tenacity to confront threats to American democracy.
Grassley’s campaign portrayed Franken as far-left, elitist, and not in line with Iowa voters.
But Franken could not convince the right voters to abandon Grassley by Election Day. Last-minute polling from the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found the Republican base and many independents had coalesced around Grassley.
“There's nothing more American than embracing the will of the people,” Franken told supporters at the Iowa Democrats’ headquarters in Des Moines. “Tonight, the Iowans around us have spoken, and as citizens across this great nation, may every vote be counted. May every outcome be accepted and may every transition be gracious.”
Franken offered a glimmer of hope to Democrats on what was shaping up to be a bad night statewide for the party, saying supporters should “regroup, keep building, and live to raise your voice to win another day.”
Dissatisfaction over the Biden presidency gave the GOP room to hammer on soaring inflation, rising crime in cities, and warnings of unchecked border security — all issues Grassley placed top of mind as well.
Grassley was able to overcome concerns about his age and a waning favorability. In an early October Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, 60 percent of likely voters said they thought Grassley’s age was a concern. He would be 95 by the end of his next term. Grassley’s job approval also hit an all-time low in the October poll, with 44 percent of Iowans approving of his job in the Senate and 48 percent disapproving.
He brushed off questions about his age by pointing to his physical health. He says he goes on daily 2-mile runs at 4 a.m. and has done pushups before crowds at public appearances.