DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Democrat Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral, will face Republican Chuck Grassley in the race for a U.S. Senate seat from Iowa, winning his party’s nomination Tuesday against two competitors.
Franken defeated former congresswoman Abby Finkenauer and physician Glenn Hurst and won the right to run against Grassley, who is seeking an eighth term in the Senate and on Tuesday rebuffed her own nominal challenge.
Franken’s primary win comes as a bit of a surprise, given Finkenauer was better known statewide after her 2018 victory over a Republican congressman that made her the second-youngest woman elected to Congress. Finkenauer lost in a 2020 re-election bid but was a frequent presence on cable TV and raised millions for his Senate bid.
In his campaign, Franken stressed the need to “reduce 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 wasn’t sure Iowans would vote for a female Democrat in the general election, although the Iowa elected female Democrats, including Finkenauer, to Congress. Mahl’s top priority is a candidate she sees as stronger against Grassley.
“If you want Grassley out, you have to vote for whoever you think can beat him,” Mahl, 66, said after casting his vote at a church in downtown Council Bluffs.
Franken, however, will face headwinds in the general election against Grassley, who has served seven terms. A state that Democrat Barack Obama won in two presidential elections has shifted steadily to the right in recent years, part of a broader transformation that has spread across the northern plains, making increasingly difficult for Democrats to compete across the state.
A well-known state legislator before serving a single term in the U.S. House, Finkenauer is one of Iowa’s most prominent Democrats.
Mark Hollander, 47, a marketing professional from West Des Moines, said he voted for Abby Finkenauer partly because of her congressional experience, but also because she represents a new generation. Finkenauer insisted on limiting the number of terms a Senate member can serve.
“I agree with her on term limits,” Hollander said. “I think Grassley hasn’t been particularly effective over the last decade and has become more obstructionist at this point.”
But Finkenauer’s campaign faced an unexpected stumble in April when it nearly missed out on the primary ballot. Republican activists claimed she did not collect enough signatures in enough counties. A district judge ruled Finkenauer did not qualify for the ballot, a decision she called “deeply partisan.” The Iowa Supreme Court overturned that decision and allowed him to run.
Still, the episode discouraged a number of the state’s veteran Democratic activists, former candidates and office holders, prompting some to give Franken a second look. He posted higher first-quarter fundraising numbers than Finkenauer and won the endorsements of some well-known former Finkenauer supporters embarrassed by his refusal to accept responsibility for ranking errors.
Grassley, from New Hartford in northern Iowa, was first elected to the US Senate in 1980 after serving three terms in the US House.
Associated Press writers David Pitt in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Grant Schulte in Council Bluffs, Iowa, contributed to this report.