Can Admiral Mike Franken be Iowa's next U.S. Senator?
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From Julie: For close to two years, I’ve been a part of a Saturday morning Zoom conversation that includes U.S. Senate primary candidate Mike Franken and other Iowa progressives. To say Franken is impressive is an understatement. I wondered how he was being received on the campaign trail. This is my report:
On the road…
I tagged along with Admiral Mike Franken last weekend as he campaigned in the northwest Iowa towns of Pocahontas, Storm Lake, Le Mars, and Sioux Center. This part of the state is as red as blood in political jargon. Or barn. It's so red a dead GOP candidate would likely beat a live Democrat. According to recent filings, D's aren't even bothering to field candidates in multiple legislative districts in this corner of the state.
I was curious to see if anyone would show up for this scheduled trip. They did.
The Democratic Party is not dead in northwest Iowa. There is a pulse. Although there appears to be a collective feeling of resignation from a group who have tried year after year to unseat Senator Charles Grassley. And yet, Admiral Mike Franken is showing up. And they still have enough hope to show up. Franken leaves them feeling hope. Hope that once voters learn about Franken, his Iowa roots, and distinguished Naval career, he will offer a resume no other opponent of Grassley has had. Franken is not a Des Moines lawyer. He is not a traditional politician. He could attract electoral gold in the 31% of independents' Iowa voters.
Of course, Franken needs to win the primary on June 7 before putting this theory to the test.
Veteran Iowa campaign pro, Julie Stauch, thinks he can win. She recently took over managing the Franken campaign. Stauch is a pro, knows Iowa, and is a highly regarded campaign technician. She's worked on five presidential campaigns, four during the Iowa caucus and one general election. She's run three U.S.House races, including Leonard Boswell's race in 2002
For Pete Buttigieg’s successful Iowa Caucus win, Stauch was the presidential candidate’s Iowa political director.
She wouldn't put her political credibility on the line by managing a primary campaign she didn't think could go the distance.
"Every time, I think this will be the last campaign," said Stauch. "Then something comes up, and I can't resist trying to find the path to victory that fits the candidate. It's always different."
This one IS different.
Helen Beneke, Pocahontas, wrote me afterward:
I was pleased that Admiral Franken came to our small town and that he was so interested in hearing our concerns & interests. He was responsive to our questions and I was impressed that his reactions to our comments were followed by his thoughts AND his rationale for his opinions. Most often, it seems to me, candidates and politicians have flat, pat statements, rehearsed each time he/she meets with a different group. My impression was that he personally responded to each of us and that he truly wanted to connect with each attendee. I appreciated the opportunity to meet with him!
In Storm Lake, prominent residents Diane and Steve Hamilton hosted a fundraiser for Franken in their beautiful lakeside home. Local observers said the turnout was surprisingly good. Franken was well received, and most attendees asked to have their pictures taken with the candidate.
I caught up with Diane Hamiton a few days after the event, and asked how she thought Franken did: '‘The democrats are fortunate to have Adm. Mike Franken as a candidate for Senate. He is wicked smart and very approachable. The key to the success of this fundraiser was the time spent before he spoke to visit with him and the other attendees. It was one of the most enjoyable events that Steve and I have hosted. Our County Chair had this to say. ‘People, including me, were impressed.’ As I was thanking people for coming many said this was a fun event.
I've watched the three primary candidates, Abby Finkenaur, Glenn Hurst, and Franken, debate. Iowa would be well served by any of the three over Grassley. Franken's resume, his demonstrated leadership and command, northwest Iowa roots, and personal life story could give him an edge in making the case that Grassley's time is past. Especially with independents.
The Democratic candidates Grassley has faced in past races have either been Des Moines lawyers (John Roehrick and Roxanne Conlin) or under-funded, liberal legislators, Art Small and Jean Lloyd-Jones from Iowa City and David Osterberg, who lived in a chicken coop.
Former Lt. Governor Patty Judge ran the last cycle, and she did better than most. She kept Grassley to a 60.9% victory.
Grassley has won reelection by the following percentages since John Culver kept him to a 53.49% victory in 1980:
1986 Grassley vs. Roehrick = Grassley won 66.04%
1992 Grassley vs. Lloyd-Jones = Grassley won 69.61%
1998 Grassley vs. Osterberg = Grassley won 68.41%
2004 Grassley vs. Small = Grassley won 70.18%
2010 Grassley vs. Conlin = Grassley won 64.35%
2016 Grassley vs. Judge = Grassley won 60. 09%
These numbers have pundits believing no Democrat can beat Grassley.
I’m no pundit, but do you see how those numbers are trending downward? The last candidate, Patty Judge, is not from Des Moines. Does it make a difference?
The Des Moines Register's Iowa Poll, conducted by J. Ann Selzer and released in June of 2021, should blow wind in the sails for the right Grassley challenger.
A whopping 64 percent of those surveyed said "it's time for someone else" to occupy that seat, compared to 27 percent who said they'd vote to elect Grassley in 2022. Seven out of 10 female voters said they wanted to see him replaced. *
A whiff of this sentiment was found during Franken's meet-and-greet in ruby-red Sioux County. A voter said he's heard folks say Grassley' has changed'. And 'why is he running—he'll be 89 on general election day. A Senate term is six years. Should age be an issue? This voter thinks so.
Franken is from Sioux County, having grown up ten miles away in a small town. His mother had to badger Rand McNally maps to get Lebanon, Iowa on the map.
I traveled with Franken and his wife, Jordan, to see the house where he grew up and the creek where he learned to swim. The house still stands, but the creek that was once home to tadpoles and surrounded by the sound of birds, is now dead due to pollution.
Old friends and neighbors greeted him warmly, even though they will probably not vote for a Democrat, no matter how close they are personally.
Still, in the living room of a local car dealer in Sioux County, Republicans and Democrats alike think it's time for a change, and Franken has their vote.
Franken will be holding events all over the state. Find one near you and see for yourself: