Abby Finkenauer’s bid to land the Democratic nomination for a U.S. Senate seat from Iowa wasn’t supposed to be so difficult.
She’s one of the state’s most prominent Democrats, earning a reputation as a prodigy in the Legislature before ousting a Republican congressman in 2018. She was the second-youngest woman elected to Congress, helping Democrats to regain control of the U.S. House that year.
And while she would go on to lose the Democratic-leaning district in 2020, her stature suffered little. She raised her profile on cable TV and aggressive email attacks on incumbent GOP Senator Chuck Grassley, which helped her raise millions ahead of her Senate run.
But Finkenauer’s campaign ran into unexpected problems last month when, at least for a moment, it appeared she would not be allowed to participate in the June 7 primary. A judge found errors in Finkenauer’s nomination petitions after Republican activists challenged his filings.
Although the Iowa Supreme Court ultimately secured its place on the ballot, the turmoil — and Finkenauer’s response — prompted some leading Democrats to give another look at his arch-rival, the Admiral at the retired Navy Mike Franken. Some Democrats fault Finkenauer, who called the Republican-appointed state judge’s ruling “deeply partisan,” for being quick to blame political motives and failing to acknowledge his own campaign’s organizational mistakes.
“It really hit me the wrong way,” said Bonnie Campbell, former Iowa attorney general and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
Campbell had contributed money to Finkenauer’s campaign, but had also eyed Franken. Finkenauer’s remarks tipped the balance, she said.
“It’s the same thing Donald Trump says, that it’s all about politics,” Campbell said. “I thought, what are my alternatives?”
Finkenauer’s campaign declined an interview request for this story.
There are few reliable polls in the primary and anyone who survives the Democratic contest faces a tough challenge in Grassley, who raised more money in March than Finkenauer and Franken combined.
Adding to the challenge, Iowa has shifted sharply to the right over the past decade, making the Democratic Senate something of a test for the party in Iowa and other once-competitive northern rural states on the way. of the return to power.
Still, Finkenauer retains the support of more Democratic state lawmakers than Franken. She received endorsement last month from the Iowa Federation of Labor, Iowa’s largest labor organization. She had also raised more than $3 million compared to Franken’s $1.8 million, according to the latest financial filings.
Finkenauer has a higher national profile in addition to cable news appearances, in part as a regular spokesperson on Joe Biden’s presidential campaign ahead of the 2020 election.
But Franken quietly built a competitive campaign, backed by former top party officials such as Campbell and former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson. Franken, a distant second runner-up in the 2020 Iowa Senate primary, also raised more money in the first quarter of 2022 than Finkenauer, and had more money on hand going into the second quarter. Franken was also the first to begin airing television commercials, which began in April. Finkenauer planned to start advertising next week.
Although Finkenauer and Franken are politically close, they present surprisingly different profiles.
At 33, Finkenauer is more than 30 years younger than Franken, 64. His message draws heavily on his working-class upbringing in Dubuque, as in both his congressional campaigns and his campaigns for the state legislature. Often with a broad smile, she campaigns with passion, as she did at a recent Democratic fundraiser.
“I will never forget where I come from and who I fight for,” Finkenauer promised 600 state party activists at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines.
Tall, grizzled, and straight as a wand, Franken’s approach is understated. With a dry sense of humor, Franken spends most of his campaign time fielding questions from the public, promoting a standard progressive platform but with a calm unheard of in much of politics today.
“I also run to ease political tensions to achieve these things,” Franken told the crowd at the Des Moines banquet.
Finkenauer has been taking a political course since college when she volunteered as a student for Joe Biden’s 2008 campaign and later as a legislative page. She won a seat in the Iowa House at age 24 in 2014, earning a reputation as a vocal member of the minority party and a seat in the US House four years later.
Franken has led ships around the world, but also worked on Capitol Hill longer than Finkenauer, serving as legislative aide to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and legislative liaison to the Navy Department under the Obama administration.
It’s Finkenauer’s stylistic contrast to the deep-voiced, 88-year-old Grassley that makes her the best choice for former Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Andrea Phillips.
“The contrasts with Abby — you know, younger, fresher ideas, a new generation — it gives voters a clearer choice,” Phillips said.
Phillips, however, would have liked to hear Finkenauer take responsibility for his campaign’s administrative error. Asked repeatedly by reporters, Finkenauer did not say she was responsible for errors that the Iowa Supreme Court did not find significant enough to prevent her from voting.
Finkenauer’s campaign offered the bare minimum of necessary signatures from different counties, leaving itself almost no room for error. But the judge found that a small handful of the 5,000 signatures obtained by Finkenauer’s campaign were not properly dated, as required by state law.
“As a fan, I probably wish she’d come out and apologized,” Phillips said. “As a fan, I would have liked to see an email from her saying that.”
At the party fundraiser, Des Moines Democrats Suzanne and Tom Fross were split on the impact of the episode. Suzanne Fross, a retired state employee, said: ‘She handled the situation well. It was a Republican ambush.” Her husband, a manufacturing manager, said: “It was embarrassing. She should have admitted it.”
Yet neither has decided who they will support with less than a month to go.
Veteran Dubuque Democratic Party volunteer Diane Gibson said she “didn’t need a big nudge” to consider Franken after the episode.
“Abby didn’t take responsibility for her own campaign’s failure to get the job done,” Gibson said. “That’s the mark of a rookie.”
The Independent Gt