Iowa Election 2022: Mike Franken jumps into Democratic Senate primary – Des Moines Register

Retired Navy Admiral Mike Franken announced October 14, 2021 that he will run for the U.S. Senate in 2022.

Retired U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Franken will run for the U.S. Senate, setting up what could become a competitive Democratic primary fight with former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer.

Though he has never held elected office, Franken enters the race with some statewide name recognition after competing in the 2020 Democratic Senate primary. Along with announcing his campaign, he released a list of endorsements from 21 elected officials and party activists Thursday.

He told the Des Moines Register in an interview that he felt called to seek the party’s nomination a second time to try to help clear the dysfunction in Washington.

“As you become older, the choices you make are more substantial,” he said. “And although there’s a plethora of options for a person of my resume, there are few things more important.”

Franken, 63, is a Sioux Center native. He spent nearly 40 years in the Navy and was a three-star vice admiral when he retired in 2017. Franken has also held a variety of roles in Washington, including as the first military officer on U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s staff, at the U.S. Department of Defense and as chief of legislative affairs for the Navy.

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He returned to Iowa in 2019 to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, but he finished second place in the 2020 Democratic primary, earning about 25% of the vote. He currently lives in Sioux City.

Franken said that since being elected to the Senate in 1980, Grassley’s allegiances have shifted away from Iowans. He accused Grassley of supporting former Republican President Donald Trump for political purposes, even as Trump, he said, has continued to lie about the outcome of the 2020 election. 

He criticized Grassley’s acceptance of Trump’s formal endorsement last week at a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Grassley “cozies up to him on stage for the sole purpose of garnering that vacuous, shallow support just to get reelected — clawing to get reelected,” Franken said. “I don’t think that is an idealized Iowa trait. I believe we stand for Iowa values and principles.”

Franken said he plans to run a campaign primarily focused on making health care affordable and accessible, enhancing Iowans’ quality of life by addressing issues like the minimum wage, and reducing partisan gridlock in Washington.  

“We can’t work and not afford health care,” he said. “We can’t have a food supply that promotes consumption over health. We can’t have a reducing life expectancy in America.”

Republicans quickly criticized Franken for failing to win the 2020 Democratic primary.

“Mike Franken has already been rejected by Iowans and is just another cookie-cutter, radical progressive,” Republican Party of Iowa Chair Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. “Despite Franken’s best efforts, his candidacy will get very little traction because it’s clear that national Democrats have already crowned Finkenauer as their winner.”

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Franken plans to raise enough money since it is the ‘elixir of victory’

Franken enters the race about three months after Finkenauer, who announced her campaign in July. She said in a recent news release that she raised more than $1 million in her first quarter.

Though Franken said he’s “not in competition with Abby’s fundraising,” he acknowledged that “money is the elixir of victory.”

“I’m letting the Iowa voter be the decision maker,” he said. “I just need to ensure that I’ve got the necessary funds to have name recognition and substance recognition throughout the state, which I failed to achieve last time.”

Franken’s campaign reported raising nearly $800,000 during the course of the 2020 primary election — far short of the roughly $7 million raised by Democrat Theresa Greenfield, who ultimately won the nomination. 

Franken said he learned from that experience and plans to spend the first months of his campaign raising money.

Franken has publicly criticized national Democrats for rushing to endorse Greenfield in the 2020 primary cycle, helping to funnel money into the state on her behalf. He said he doesn’t believe the same forces will be at work in 2022.

“I anticipate that we will not have favored candidates being chosen outside of the confines of the state,” he said.

Three other Democrats — Bob Krause, a former state representative and veterans activistGlenn Hurst, a doctor and Minden City Council member and Dave Muhlbauer, a farmer and former county supervisor — have also announced U.S. Senate campaigns.

Jim Carlin, a Republican state senator from Sioux City, is challenging Grassley in a Republican primary.  

Candidates must file financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission this week, formally revealing how much they’ve raised and spent on the race — an early indication of their viability.

As a former member of Congress and state representative, Finkenauer, 32, is the best-known Democrat to enter the race so far. But even she has substantial room to establish name recognition across the state.

A September Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, which tested opinions about Finkenauer but not lower-profile candidates, found that Finkenauer is viewed favorably by 30% of Iowans and unfavorably by 28% of Iowans. That leaves 42% who say they do not know enough about her to form an opinion.

That same poll found Finkenauer trailed Grassley 55% to 37% among likely voters in a head-to-head matchup. Seven percent said they were unsure who they would support, and 1% would not vote.

More:Iowa Poll: Chuck Grassley leads Abby Finkenauer in test of possible US Senate matchup

Though Franken would first need to defeat Finkenauer in a primary, he said his focus is on Grassley.

“I’m not challenging her per se, but rather challenging the Iowa voter to choose the senatorial candidate that has the unique range of life experiences to beat Charles Grassley,” he said. “And you must be a viable candidate from the very start of assuming the office, because time is of the essence.”

Primary elections are scheduled for June 7, 2022.

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at bpfann@dmreg.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

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