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Mike Franken becomes fourth Democrat aiming to challenge Sen. Joni Ernst

Retired admiral from Sioux City says he's not afraid to make tough calls

Mike Franken of Sioux City on Monday formally entered the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in 2020. He is a retired admiral. (Mike Franken campaign photo)
Mike Franken of Sioux City on Monday formally entered the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in 2020. He is a retired admiral. (Mike Franken campaign photo)

SIOUX CITY — Mike Franken, a retired three-star admiral from Sioux City, on Monday entered the Democratic field for the U.S. Senate race that will be settled by voters in 2020.

Franken said he plans to speak extensively about climate change, health care and ethanol.

Franken, in a release and social media video posts, said he is ready to pursue the Senate position with lessons from his Iowa upbringing and U.S. Navy leadership posts.

“I made a lot of tough calls during my time in the Navy, and I’m not afraid to stand up for the proud progressive principles that Iowa Democrats share,” Franken said.

Joni Ernst, a Republican, has held the seat since winning the 2014 election, and she is seeking a second six-year term. Three other Democrats are in the field — Theresa Greenfield, Kimberly Graham and Eddie Mauro. So a June 2020 primary election is needed to set the party’s nominee.

“Republicans like Joni Ernst and (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell never stand up to Donald Trump, and too many D.C. Democrats aren’t championing bold solutions for the climate crisis, the cost of health care and Wall Street greed,” Franken said, also in the video.

Franken was raised in Sioux County. He said he spent years in senior policymaking, strategy and planning roles for the Defense Department. He retired in October 2017 and later moved to Sioux City.

In a Monday interview, Franken said he’s running as a progressive Democrat.

“Republicans are not looking forward to the future generations. They don’t stand up to Donald Trump,” he said.

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Asked for policies he hopes to highlight, Franken mentioned climate change, health care, rebuking special-interest groups, ethanol, national security and the budget. He said lessons learned in his military career will serve him well in the Senate.

“I developed this broad perspective of what equates to good governance and what equates to bad governance,” Franken said.

He added, “I’m a highly empathetic person, but I’ve also learned to make tough calls. ... I can be extremely objective, but I can also hammer a solution through. And by George, I’m not afraid to do that.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has endorsed Greenfield.

Franken, 61, predicted he’ll get campaign contributions from a wide swath of people.

“This is going to be an old campaign based on true values and what’s important to Iowa,” Franken said.

“I don’t have the benefit of tapping into those large organizations that give the OK” from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, he said. “I have the grass roots. And you know what? In the end, that’s a gift. We’ll do well.”

In a Monday release, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said, “Franken now joins a field that finds itself in a race to the far left, embracing the values of coastal elites, including socialized medicine and policies that would destroy our agricultural economy.”

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