Once hopeful, Iowa Democrats run against Sen. Grassley

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — When they won the Democratic Senate nomination in June, many disillusioned Iowa party members thought they had landed on a candidate who might — perhaps — reverse their position in the state.

After all, the retired Navy admiral has won 76 of 99 counties, in every region of the state, including conservative northern and western Iowa. His reluctance during the primary campaign to support gun bans and college loans…

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — When they won the Democratic Senate nomination in June, many disillusioned Iowa party members thought they had landed on a candidate who might — perhaps — reverse their position in the state.

After all, the retired Navy admiral has won 76 of 99 counties, in every region of the state, including conservative northern and western Iowa. His reluctance in the primary campaign to support gun bans and the cancellation of college loans were signs he aimed to appeal to moderate Democrats and even some Republicans weary after four decades in office.

But those ambitions are starting to fade as election day, 8 November, approaches. Franken’s quest to unseat the Senate’s most senior Republican has been hurt by allegations that the Democrat kissed a former campaign aide without permission. Franken’s campaign denied that claim.

He has already defied doubters, beating better-known and better-funded former Rep. Abby Finkenauer in the primary. Still, many Democrats recognize that a race still seen as a long shot risks slipping firmly out of reach.

For Democrat Marcia Nichols, a former longtime political director of Iowa’s largest public employees union, the allegation, “Anyway, it makes it harder now.” But she noted that Franken took on Finkenauer, “who was pretty popular and beat her by a lot. I’m not writing it off.

Obstacles seemed remote at a recent campaign stop as Franken, in his standard Navy cap, urged hundreds of supporters on a warm fall afternoon in suburban Des Moines to rally Republicans who might want a change after Grassley’s 42 years in the Senate.

“People in Iowa wake up every day doing hard things,” Franken said. “That takes, in today’s environment, a lot of courage.”

To win, Franken would have to split voters with the Republican governor, a staunch social conservative and strong supporter who is favored in her re-election campaign. He is expected to challenge a decade of Republican ascendancy in Iowa, made more difficult in an election year where majority Democrats in Congress face economic headwinds and Democratic President Joe Biden.

Franken’s challenges are part of a larger reversal of fortune for Democrats.

A decade ago, Grassley and five-term progressive Democrat Tom Harkin were senators from Iowa. Democrats held three of five seats in the US House and a narrow majority in the state Senate. Today, Rep. Cindy Axne of West Des Moines is the only Democrat from Iowa in Congress and is considered one of her party’s most vulnerable this fall. The GOP’s hold on the state house is the party’s longest in more than six decades.

Franken’s resounding victory in the primary offered a glimmer of opportunity for Democrats.

A month after the primary, Franken was trailing Grassley by just 8 percentage points among likely voters in a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll. It pointed to a potentially closer race than Grassley has faced since defeating Democratic Sen. John Culver in 1980.

Without help from the Senate Democrats’ national campaign arm, Franken has raised $8.3 million this year, including $3.6 million in the third quarter. Grassley had reported raising $7.5 million through the end of July but did not release its total for the July-September period. This report is expected on October 15.

The majority job approval that Grassley has possessed for about two decades of Des Moines Register polls has recently plummeted: It hovered in uncharted territory and was at 46% in the July poll.

Also recounting the change, 64% of likely voters said in a June 2021 Des Moines Register poll that they did not want him to run again, given the choice of having someone else fill his office or to re-elect the senator for another term.

The change in mood comes as Grassley, who entered the Senate as a Ronald Reagan-era fiscal conservative, has tried to adjust to Trump-era hyperpartisan politics.

Faced with pointed questions from voters last year about why he refused to say Democrat Joe Biden had won the 2020 election, Grassley parsed his language to obliquely suggest Biden is president following the vote count. vote of the electoral college.

About two-thirds of Republicans nationwide said they don’t think so, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in July 2021.

A year ago, Grassley was beaming when Trump endorsed him at a rally in Des Moines that drew 10,000 people to the Iowa State Fairgrounds, where the former president falsely claimed that he had won the 2020 election. “I’m smart enough to take that endorsement,” Grassley told the audience, noting Trump’s comfortable victory in Iowa in that race.

Grassley campaigned little in public. He relied more on television advertising, much of it critical of Franken for comments he made about the direction of the state under Republican leadership.

Grassley turned 89 last month and says he has no concerns about completing another six-year term – he would be 95 at the end of an eighth term. “Absolutely not,” he told a news conference on Wednesday.

He followed his daily schedule, which he says includes getting up at 4 a.m., running 2 miles six days a week, and arriving at his office at 6 a.m.

“Unless God intervenes, I will be in the Senate for six years,” he added.

Franken shunned Grassley’s age and instead made Grassley’s time in power his primary responsibility. “We deserve better than a senator for life,” the Democrat said.

Franken characterized Grassley’s praise of the Supreme Court’s ruling stripping women of their constitutional right to abortion as out of step with Iowa, where polls show a majority of voters supporting keeping the abortion. the legality of abortion.

Franken, who supports the passage of legislation making abortion a federal right, held a modest advantage with likely voters in the July Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll.

But the release of a police report detailing the unwanted kiss with the former campaign staffer has prompted questions from some potential Franken supporters. The campaign manager released a public statement that the allegation in the report was false and police called it unsubstantiated.

Elizabeth Sibers, a 22-year-old student from Iowa State University in Waukee who attended Franken’s rally, said she would like him to speak out against the harassment at a minimum.

“It troubles me. He has to take the time to deal with it,” she said. Sibers remains open to voting for him and said she wanted to “give Franken the chance to grow from this. , and not just to look beyond”.

Grassley said he doesn’t plan to make it a campaign issue. But when Franken called him “anti-woman,” for supporting the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Grassley responded quickly and curtly.

“You can’t lecture me about women,” he said. “You’re not in a position to do that.”

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