Life experiences have prepared them, Democratic U.S. Senate hopefuls say

The four Iowa Democrats seeking their party's nomination for the U.S. Senate -- Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theres
The four Iowa Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate -- Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield and Eddie Mauro -- are shown at an April 19 online forum. (Screengrab)

It hasn’t been the campaign any of them expected, but four candidates for the Iowa Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat still are hoping for the outcome they imagined.

Michael Franken, Theresa Greenfield, Kimberly Graham and Eddie Mauro are hoping to win their party’s nomination in the June 2 primary to face Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst in November.

The deadline for requesting an absentee ballot has passed. Voters may cast a ballot in person from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 2. Find your polling place at

Although there’s been little independent polling in the race, Greenfield and Mauro have polls showing them being competitive against the first-term Ernst. Democrats also point to polls showing Ernst as the third least popular member of the Senate and other polls showing her favorability rating among Iowans has dropped over nearly six years in Congress.

In short, Democrats say the former Red Oak farm girl and state senator has failed to deliver on her campaign promise to “make ’em squeal,” which attracted voters who sent her to Washington to clean up corruption and fight for working people.

The Democratic candidates are highlighting their “clean” campaigns.

“I’m her polar opposite,” said Graham, a lawyer specializing in child and family law. “I don’t take corporate PAC or corporate lobbyist money. I’ve removed myself from this corrupt system. I have not and never will accept contributions from corporate PACs or lobbyists. You cannot fix a problem by being part of it.”

Iowans have gotten a raw deal from Ernst, whose voting record “screams special interests,” asserted retired three-star Admiral Franken. He promises to put Iowans’ interests first rather than “do the bidding of special interests.”

“We have to banish special interests by publicly financing elections,” he added.


Greenfield also talks about her pledge not to take money from corporate political actions committees because “we’re not going to get results for Iowans on many of these big challenges until we also get big money out of our politics.”

“Washington is corrupted by big corporate PACs,” said Greenfield, who has been endorsed by End Citizens United. “Ernst promised to be different, but she’s taken $1.9 million from corporate PACs and puts those donors ahead of our families.”

Not so fast, said Mauro, who owns a Des Moines property insurance company. While Greenfield may not take corporate PAC money, she’s benefiting from the Senate Majority PAC that is advertising heavily on her behalf. A leader, Mauro said, would reject their support.

On many issues, the candidates’ positions vary by degrees. For instance, they all prioritize health care, but come at it from different angles.

Mauro is promoting a path toward universal coverage, offering everyone the same health care coverage available to members of Congress. He would support Medicare for All, but says it’s not perfect.

“There are gaps in prescription drug coverage, the lack of ability to negotiate for lower drug prices and reimbursement rates for physicians are just a few examples,” he said. “Any set of proposals should have Medicare as a floor for coverage — not a ceiling.”

Franken would ensure universal access to health care by giving every American the option to buy into the kind of health care he enjoyed in the military. That would include dental, mental and preventive care.

Greenfield wants to strengthen the Affordable Care Act with a public option and take on “Big Pharma” by letting Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices.

Graham wants a universal single-payer health care system “so no one is without medical insurance and so no one goes bankrupt from medical debt or dies from rationing medications.”

“These things should never happen in a moral and wealthy nation,” she said.

There’s also general agreement on the need for a large investment in infrastructure from bridges to broadband, for paid family leave and policies to address climate change.

The candidates all point to life experiences as preparing them to serve Iowa in the Senate.

Mauro said he’s running to tackle big issues and his lifetime of community involvement as a teacher, a community organizer and business owner have prepared him for the six-year, $174,000-a-year job.

“It’s getting back to listening to Iowans, solving problems and giving Iowans a seat at the table — not just the establishment and special interests,” he said.

He’s best-equipped to do that, he said, because of his experience as a teacher in rural Iowa and building a business in the state’s largest city — a business he notes provides paid family and sick leave and has a leadership team that’s more than 60 percent women.

Overall, Mauro said, the race is about who can best address inequality.

“While our families are struggling to put food on the table, the top 1 percent of this country is continuing to enrich themselves off the Trump tax cuts and the COVID stimulus package,” he said. “I fundamentally believe that those benefiting the most from an economic system have an obligation to pay for the roads they drive on every day, for the police that keep them safe, for the schools that teach their children and for the health care that keeps them safe. No family in the wealthiest country in the world should be going hungry.”

Greenfield touts her experience as a businesswoman and mother. She has broad grassroots support, Greenfield said, pointing to her 19,000 contributions from Iowans and endorsements by 24 labor unions, including the Iowa AFL-CIO that represents nearly 70,000 Iowans.

Graham’s experience includes 20 years of “standing up and fighting for regular Iowans as an advocate and attorney for abused kids and for parents in Juvenile Court.”


“It’s been my job to work for Iowans and I’ll keep right on doing that in the U.S. Senate,” Graham said.

No one tops his experience, said Franken, who served as President Barack Obama’s director of legislative affairs for the Navy and worked for U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy in the 1990s.

“Iowans will not be rewarded by sending another amateur to the Senate,” he said. “I’ve been here before.”

For more information on the candidates, visit their websites:

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