Mike Franken aims to oust Grassley with appeal to independents

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U.S. Senate hopeful Mike Franken, center, was welcomed to the Hotel Pattee Thursday by Greene County Democrat Mary Weaver, left, and Dallas County Democrat Monica Peitz.


About 50 people turned up Thursday night to hear Democrat hopeful Mike Franken discuss his plans for beating seven-term U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in the 2022 election with an appeal to independent voters.

Franken said that Grassley, in his 40 years in the Senate, has “presided over the disintegration of rural America,” with corporate monopolies capturing commodity markets and industrial-scale farming methods degrading the environment.

Grassley, 88, has held public office continuously since his election to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1959. In 1983 he joined 21 of his fellow Senators in voting against the establishment of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a legal holiday.

Franken declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in October, just a few days after Grassley accepted the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. So far his message has been “well received,” Franken said, and he is also reaching his fundraising goals ahead of schedule.

The 2018 contest between Democrat Theresa Greenfield and Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst saw about $234 million in campaign spending, making it the second-most expensive election in U.S. history.

“People want to listen,” Franken said of his first month on the campaign trail. “I think it has to do with they’re looking for change. I think there’s an acceptance that there’s some dysfunction and some inactivity that is happening. There’s some animus amongst the parties, which has gotten only worse.”

Franken’s manner seems moderate, measured and tending toward understatement, as in his saying that “some animus” divides the nation, when incendiary partisan rancor leads Republicans to claim that “infrastructure is communism” and to storm the U.S. Capitol in their pro-Trump zeal.

“In many respects it’s manufactured,” Franken said of the current political ill will. “The psychological operations that have been going on since the ’90s have started to cause a rift in society.” He traced it to the era of Newt Gingrich’s politics of personal destruction and the Rush Limbaugh brand of white-grievance conservatism.

“We need a jaw of steel to speak the truth,” he said.

Franken, a resident of Sioux City, noted that 86% of voters in Sioux County chose Trump in the 2020 election.

“I can’t change that to be less than 50%,” he said, “but I can trim 15% off that.” With one-third of Iowa voters currently registered as independents, such a margin could prove decisive in a contest with Grassley.

“It’s infinitely winnable,” Franken said, “mostly because of the significant number of independents in this state and the sensibility that I’m seeing in them and, as we kind of expected to happen, they’re looking for something different, a different path. The question is where the belief system, the values statement is so that you can trigger and not be repellent to the vast majority of those people.”

Judging by the response of the crowd at the hotel Thursday, Franken is triggering and not repelling the Greene County and northern Dallas County voters.

“Vote your values,” he said. “That’s the question. Vote your values.”

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