116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Now we’ll see if Mike Franken really can beat U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.
It was the central argument of the retired admiral’s campaign for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. His resume of military service, Capitol Hill experience, depth of policy knowledge and his upbringing in rural northwest Iowa would make him a formidable candidate in the fall.
Democrats, who are desperate for a statewide, top-of-the-ticket win that has eluded them for so long, bought into the argument, handing him a surprisingly lopsided win over former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer 55 percent to 40 percent with Dr. Glenn Hurst a distant third.
Franken gained momentum during the final two months of the campaign, with an assist from Republicans who challenged Finkenauer’s place on the ballot. During a roughly two week period when a state election panel ruled Finkenauer did have enough petition signatures, a state court judge ruled she did not and the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled to keep her on the ballot, her candidacy appeared to be in jeopardy. Democrats took a fresh look at Franken and he took advantage of the opening.
A lot of Democrats apparently liked what they saw. Unlike his failed Senate run during the pre-vaccine days of pandemic in 2020, when he was campaigning by video conference, Franken was able to travel the state and meet voters face-to-face. He also raised enough bucks to beef up his media presence, including TV ads.
Franken has a moderate profile, but he also favors Medicare for all and is likely more progressive than he appears on paper. “While we may not agree on every policy issue, he is willing to consider every policy position without bending to the external pressures of moneyed interests that so often shape the views of prominent political leaders,” Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, a Bernie Sanders backer, wrote in a recent guest column, citing Franken’s health care stance.
When Tuesday’s confetti settles, Franken faces an uphill run. Grassley still is heavily favored to win an eighth term in the Senate. But this will be his toughest race since he beat John Culver in 1980.
In 2004, Democrats picked a military veteran, John Kerry, to take on President George W. Bush, thinking Kerry’s war record would give him the best chance of winning. Then Kerry got shamelessly “swift-boated” by attacks on his military record and lost. Franken had better be ready for the onslaught.
On the Republican side Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds got her school voucher revenge as candidates she endorsed in primaries against Republican lawmakers who opposed her education plans won. The already extremely conservative Legislature will lurch even further to the right. The party’s breakup with public education is complete.
But it provides clarity for voters. The fall election will be a referendum on the governor’s plan to provide tens of millions of dollars in public school funding for private school scholarships. Will Iowa’s history of supporting public schools hold, or will the book-banners, transgender bashers and litter box liars win?
Democrat Deidre DeJear will present her own vision for public education in sharp contrast to Reynolds’ voucher crusade. Polling shows most Iowans don’t support the governor’s plan, so a lot of voters will be willing to listen to DeJear’s approach.
Reynolds is favored to win. But public education is a special issue in Iowa, where schools are the center of many communities. After years of frustration, we’ll see if Democrats have any fight left in them.
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