Iowa Democrat Mike Franken will face Chuck Grassley in Senate race

Retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken salutes before making a speech.
Retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken salutes before speaking at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Liberty and Justice Celebration on April 30.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

Democrat Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral, will face Republican incumbent Charles E. Grassley in the race for an Iowa U.S. Senate seat, winning his party nomination Tuesday over two competitors.

Franken beat former congresswoman Abby Finkenauer and physician Glenn Hurst and earned the right to run against Grassley, who is seeking an eighth Senate term and beat back a nominal primary challenge of his own on Tuesday.

Franken’s primary win is something of a surprise, given Finkenauer was better known throughout the state after her 2018 victory over a Republican congressman that made her the second-youngest woman elected to Congress. Finkenauer lost in a reelection bid in 2020 but was a frequent presence on cable television and raised millions of dollars toward her Senate run.


In his campaign, Franken emphasized a need to “dial down the political tension” in Washington. He also called for adding a public insurance option to the Affordable Care Act.

Joyce Mahl of Council Bluffs in western Iowa said she voted for Franken because she was unsure Iowans would vote for a Democratic woman in the general election, though Iowa has elected Democratic women, including Finkenauer, to Congress. Mahl’s top priority is a candidate she views as stronger against Grassley.

“If you want Grassley out, you’ve got to vote for the one that you think can beat him,” Mahl, 66, said after voting at a downtown Council Bluffs church.

The announcement sets up a general election between celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz, who was endorsed by former President Trump, and Democrat John Fetterman in what is expected to be one of the nation’s premier Senate contests.

June 3, 2022

Franken will nonetheless face stiff headwinds going into the general election against Grassley, who has served seven terms. A state that Democrat Barack Obama won in two presidential elections has steadily shifted to the right in recent years, part of a broader transformation that has spread through the northern Plains and has made it increasingly difficult for Democrats to compete statewide.

A well-known state lawmaker before she served a single term in the U.S. House, Finkenauer is one of the most prominent Democrats in Iowa.
Mark Hollander, 47, a marketing professional from West Des Moines, said he voted for Finkenauer in part because of her background in Congress, but also because she represents a new generation. Finkenauer stressed limiting the number of terms a member of the Senate can serve.

“I do agree with her on term limits,” Hollander said. “I feel that Grassley has not been especially effective in the last decade-plus and has turned more obstructionist at this point.”


But Finkenauer’s campaign faced an unexpected stumble in April when she nearly didn’t make the primary ballot. Republican activists claimed she hadn’t gathered enough signatures from enough counties. A district judge ruled Finkenauer hadn’t qualified for the ballot, a ruling she called “deeply partisan.” The Iowa Supreme Court overruled that decision and allowed her to run.

More than 20 Californians are running for the U.S. Senate seat, but Democrat Alex Padilla and Republican Mark P. Meuser have emerged from the pack.

June 7, 2022

Still, the episode turned off a number of veteran state Democratic activists, former candidates and officeholders, prompting some to give Franken a second look. He posted stronger first-quarter fundraising figures than Finkenauer and earned endorsements from some well-known former Finkenauer supporters bothered by her declining to accept responsibility for the filing mistakes.

Grassley, from New Hartford in northern Iowa, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1980 after serving three terms in the U.S. House.

Associated Press writers David Pitt in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Grant Schulte in Council Bluffs, Iowa, contributed to this report.