Mike Franken wins Democratic nomination to take on Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley

By: - June 9, 2022 11:32 am

Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate, from left, Abby Finkenauer, Mike Franken and Glenn Hurst participate in a candidate debate May 19, 2022, on Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS)

Retired U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Franken won the Democratic nomination for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat on Tuesday, beating former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer.

The Associated Press called the competitive primary race for Franken at 9:13 p.m., with 55.2% of votes cast. His opponents, Finkenauer and Minden city councilman Glenn Hurst, won 40% and 4.8% of the vote, respectively.

At a Tuesday campaign event, Franken committed to taking down his general election opponent, longtime U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

“We’re turning this race from a third tier senatorial race to a tier one, the most interesting race in this nation,” he said. “Because how Iowa goes, the nation goes.”

Franken launched his campaign for the Senate seat in October. The retired military officer has campaigned on offering Iowans an alternative to Grassley — who won his own primary race Tuesday — as someone who could still appeal to some of the Republican’s supporters and to independents. Franken is from rural Lebanon, worked at a slaughterhouse and has nearly 40 years of military experience. 

“It’s that middle segment who want logical, pragmatic, smart, dedicated, national servants to work for them. Leader servants,” Franken said in an Iowa Press debate. “I believe I’m that person.”

Franken ran for the U.S. Senate in 2020 as well, hoping to challenge U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, but lost the primary race to businesswoman Theresa Greenfield.

Finkenhauer outraged Franken

The retired admiral was much more prepared for primary campaigning this time. According to campaign finance reports, Franken raised more than $2.8 million during the primary election and currently has more than $250,000 cash on hand. While Finkenauer raised more overall at $3.7 million, he surpassed her in recent quarterly fundraising reports.

Finkenauer conceded the race at a Tuesday night event and congratulated Franken on his primary win.

“Mike ran a great campaign rooted in our shared values, standing up for working people, delivering better health care and child care for every family, and doing the hard work to defend our democracy,” she said. “I look forward to working with him in the coming months to defeat Senator Grassley and finally deliver change for Iowa families.”

Finkenauer announced her candidacy for the Senate seat last July, declaring she was driven to run again for national office after watching the Jan. 6 insurrection unfold in the wake of President Joe Biden’s election. 

She encountered troubles earlier in the primary race when a district court barred her from appearing on the ballot because of three undated or incorrectly dated signatures on her campaign’s nominating petition. The Supreme Court overruled the district decision, saying in a majority decision that dates were not mandatory.

The primary candidates didn’t disagree on many issues: All supported abortion access and paid parental leave, and called for gun control measures to combat shootings such as those which recently claimed lives in Ames and Uvalde, Texas. Hurst, a doctor, differentiated himself as the only pro-Green New Deal and Medicare for All candidate, although Franken said he supports steps toward Medicare for All by expanding the Medicaid program.

Heading into general

More than policy differences, candidates contrasted themselves based on how they could compete against Grassley in the general election. Candidates made their appeals in countless television and digital ads in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election, with Franken spending nearly $1.6 million in advertising. Finkenauer spent $300,000 on ads.

“We need a senator on our side more than ever,” a voiceover in one Franken campaign ad said. “Franken will be a much tougher challenger for Chuck Grassley.”

Now, Franken faces Grassley in the general election. The incumbent Republican started airing television, print and radio ads ahead of the primary election, emphasizing his conservative bona fides and experience in office. 

Heading into the general, Grassley has $4.6 million cash on hand, having outraised all three of the Democratic contenders in the primary race. Franken criticized Grassley for taking money from special interest groups, including gun and pharmaceutical lobbyists.

We can double Chuck Grassley’s money by only individual donations,” Franken said. “We don’t need dark money, we don’t need NRA money. We don’t.”

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.