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Can Iowa Democrats Defeat Chuck Grassley?

Senator Grassley in Williamsburg, Iowa. Jan. 12, 2010.

If Democrats repeat the campaign strategy and tactics of the 2020 Theresa Greenfield campaign, we are destined to lose any challenge to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

Greenfield was a good candidate, despite the loss. She had the best advice and raised a lot of money. If Democrats are engaged, we should now understand support from highly paid consultants, combined with stellar fund raising, did not get the job done. A repeat seems futile as we take on the incumbent’s campaign machine.

What makes Grassley so potent a campaigner? He is like a 1949 Ford 8N tractor. He may look old and out of date yet he’s still working, and for his Republican constituents, gets the job done. I attended a couple of his events over the years and he has been well-familiar with the turf everywhere he spoke. He knows the county margin of victory or loss from the most recent election at each town hall. He has deep connections to local Republicans. His campaign staff provides support to state house candidates in the form of analyzing local voter databases and targeting key voters with his folksy direct mail. Whoever is the Democratic nominee will have a lot of catching up to do.

I supported Mike Franken in the 2020 Democratic primary and am inclined to do so again. There are too many shades of Greenfield with Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who could not win reelection to her congressional seat. While Franken served decades in the U.S. Navy away from Iowa, we are at a point where a high level military veteran and Washington insider could best represent our interests as U.S. Senator. There are other Democratic candidates running to beat Grassley. None of them is as strong a candidate as Franken.

Is this an endorsement? Endorsements of baby boomers matter less each election cycle. It is time for my cohort to let go the grip we had on the Iowa Democratic Party. While I’m saddened to see long-time Iowa senators and representatives with whom I worked call it quits, it is time to move on and let the next generation work on campaigns. If successful, they should take the reins of power. Given the shellacking Democrats took in 2020 there is no case for letting old timers run the show.

One might say, “isn’t Franken old?” What matters more than age in the race to beat Chuck Grassley is policy and experience. The only Federal office holders with whom I spent more time than with Mike Franken are Dave Loebsack and Tom Harkin — I know him. Franken is right on policy and his experience is relevant, timely and evident. I don’t know if others will like him, but I do. I believe he could win the seat.

If I have been enamored of a political campaign for the experience alone, that time is past. Like most people I seek a secure, livable future. I believe Iowa Democrats can beat the incumbent if we avoid mistakes of recent campaigns, if we adapt to the times. I believe Franken is here for that.

In the meanwhile, we have a primary next year in which we will have to choose sides. I hate the distraction yet it’s part of the Democratic process. Here’s hoping we can rally around the winner and defeat Chuck Grassley next November. Our chances are better with Mike Franken as our candidate.

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