Democrat aiming to unseat Sen. Grassley knocked off Iowa primary ballot

Abby Finkenauer smiles as a microphone is held near her.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer, shown in November 2020, plans to appeal a judge’s ruling that disqualified her from the Iowa primary ballot.
(Liz Martin / Associated Press)

A state court judge has ruled that Democrat Abby Finkenauer cannot appear on the June 7 Iowa primary ballot for U.S. Senate because she didn’t gather enough petition signatures, potentially knocking out the candidate considered by many to be the party’s best chance to unseat Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley.

Judge Scott Beattie, a 2018 appointee of Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, filed a ruling late Sunday that overturned a decision by a three-member panel of state elected officials. The panel concluded last week that Finkenauer’s campaign staffers had substantially complied with Iowa law that requires candidates to obtain 3,500 names, including at least 100 signatures from at least 19 counties.

Finkenauer plans to appeal the decision and the Iowa Supreme Court scheduled a hearing Wednesday with a promise to rule on the matter by the end of the week to meet deadlines for sending ballots to overseas voters.


Two Republicans challenged Finkenauer’s petition papers, saying signatures from at least two counties were not dated properly.

In past similar cases, the state panel, which includes the secretary of state, attorney general and state auditor, has found petitions to be in substantial compliance with the law even though signatures were missing or difficult to interpret and declined to disqualify candidates. Atty. Gen. Tom Miller and Auditor Rob Sand, both Democrats, voted to allow Finkenauer’s petitions, citing past precedent for giving deference to campaigns that used the proper forms and made efforts to comply with the law. Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, voted against Finkenauer’s petition.

Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett, former Republican county election officials, challenged the signatures and then filed a court appeal of the Iowa Objection Panel’s decision last week.

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Beattie concluded that the panel’s legal interpretation was wrong and that the law clearly says each signature should be accompanied by a date. His decision invalidated signatures from two counties in Finkenauer’s nomination petitions, resulting in a failure to meet the requirement to submit at least 100 signatures from at least 19 counties. Beattie said he took no joy in the decision.

“This court should not be in the position to make a difference in an election, and Ms. Finkenauer and her supporters should have a chance to advance her candidacy. However, this court’s job is to sit as a referee and apply the law without passion or prejudice. It is required to rule without consideration of the politics of the day,” he said,

Finkenauer accused Beattie of doing the bidding of Grassley and his allies in Washington.

“This misguided, midnight ruling is an outrageous and partisan gift to the Washington Republicans who orchestrated this meritless legal action,” she said. “We are exploring all of our options to fight back hard against this meritless partisan attack, and to ensure that the voices of Iowans will be heard at the ballot box.”


Finkenauer said her petitions had more than 5,000 signatures and she’s confident she has met the requirements to be on the ballot.

Beattie promised last week that he would file a decision by midnight Sunday to give both sides time to appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court. He filed the decision at 10:49 p.m. Sunday. Pate has said he must know whether Finkenauer qualifies for the ballot by Friday to allow time for ballots to be printed and sent to overseas voters, who must get their ballots by April 23 to comply with the law.

Finkenauer, who served one term in the U.S. House from 2019 to 2021, seeks to be on a ballot that includes Democrats Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral, and Glenn Hurst, a doctor and Minden City Council member. The primary winner will face Grassley, who is seeking an eighth term in the Senate.

Federal fundraising data and statewide polling indicate that Grassley, who turns 89 in September, is well positioned to retain the seat he has held since 1981 for another six years.

Grassley has raised more than $4.7 million, Finkenauer about $1.9 million and Franken $1.8 million. Hurst raised just over $66,000. Republican state Sen. Jim Carlin, who will be on the Republican primary ballot opposite Grassley, raised $282,151.

A Des Moines Register/Medicom Poll published in November gave Grassley a lead of 18 percentage points over Finkenauer.


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