116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I have been involved in over 20 Iowa general elections, working for the Iowa Democratic Party for five years and 37 years for Sen. Tom Harkin. I believe Michael Franken is the most logical choice for Democrats in the June 7 primary because he is best positioned to win and has the experience to be a quality senator.
Sen. Chuck Grassley has won seven U.S. Senate elections. Always quite conservative, he has numerous achievements, but he has significantly shifted toward the hard right and become far less willing to consider bipartisan proposals.
Most pundits believe he is likely to win again. But, with the right candidate, Democrats can present a serious challenge. As we have watched the current Congress, the difference of a single senator, perhaps providing a minimum majority, perhaps providing one senator to spare allowing the Democratic caucus to proceed if one member is in opposition, is beyond crucial.
While there are three candidates on the Democratic primary ballot, only two have a real chance.
Abby Finkenauer looks good on paper. She’s a former one-term congresswoman originally from Dubuque with an organization and reasonable fundraising. But a closer look shows that might be more facade than real. In the first three months of this year, she raised $1.15 million but managed to spend 95 percent of that during the period, a lion’s share going just to raise contributions, without running TV or other media not aimed at fundraising. That is called a “burn rate” and one that is at this point, is exceedingly high. It's a very bad indicator for this point in a race.
She received generally favorable press by overcoming a challenge to her nomination papers, but being so razor close in this critical campaign function is not a sign of competence.
Mike Franken, a retired three-star Navy Admiral from Sioux Center, has now hit his stride as shown by the latest financial disclosure. He raised $1.4 million in the first three months, spending 51 percent of what he raised, a far more reasonable “burn rate.” And that is the likely reason he is now running TV ads that are being well received.
Looking at the Nov. election: the keys for Democrats to win are, first, having the race become truly competitive and, second, being able to attract a larger share of voters in the center: the undecided so-called swing voters.
Let’s not sugarcoat it. To win the Senate race, with the state having shifted to the right in recent years, Grassley’s electability needs to be reduced. Some signs of that development are seen in the respected Des Moines Register Iowa poll where his age, 88, was shown to be a significant factor. He would be the second oldest senator in history running for re-election.
Democrats need some improvement in the economy, particularly a reduction in inflation. But, with that possibility, the race could become genuinely competitive.
Franken, a veteran who has the highest military rank of any Senate candidate, provides a real draw for less partisan, often swing, voters. In a year where many voters have considerable insecurity on many subjects from inflation to the threat of a broadening war, it is likely to make him more attractive. His policy profile: for improved health care, wanting to take strong action on climate change, rural development and being strongly pro-choice should also be a good mix for both Democratic and swing voters.
I believe Franken can make the more effective case that Grassley is not properly representing Iowa. Grassley has been completely unwilling to have the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share, to move us forward toward better health care, and to take effective action on climate change. And, Grassley has not stood up to the significant threat posed by the “Big Lie” to our democracy.
Richard Bender served as a longtime member of former Iowa U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s staff and also worked for the late former U.S. Sen. John Culver. His long career in public service included devising and implementing the modern Iowa caucuses system.