- Sen. Chuck Grassley, 87, has not announced if he will seek reelection in 2022.
- If Grassley retires, it could lead to a chaotic Republican primary, opening the door for Democrats.
- Finkenauer called out Grassley for not condemning Trump’s election lies.
DES MOINES – Former Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer on Thursday became the first major Democrat to announce a 2022 run for the U.S. Senate seat long held by Republican Chuck Grassley.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Finkenauer echoed many of the themes that motivated her two campaigns for Congress, including a focus on working Iowans and support for the middle class.
But she also brought a harder edge to her criticism of Republican leaders after supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to disrupt the transfer of power to Democrat Joe Biden.
“On 1/6 the world changed, and so did I,” Finkenauer said. “I remember sitting on my couch in Cedar Rapids with my husband as we were watching my former colleagues and my friends get attacked in the United States Capitol. … That violent mob, that insurrection, was happening because our country and people were fed misinformation and lies about our elections and democracy, and our senators didn’t push back.”
Grassley condemned the riot as “an attack on democracy itself,” but Finkenauer said he should have gone further in condemning Trump’s election lies that fueled participants.
Now, Finkenauer is casting this election as bigger than a fight between competing policy agendas.
“We’re talking about our democratic principles here, and those are worth fighting for every single day,” she said. “I intend to do it.”
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All eyes are on Chuck Grassley: Will he run?
Finkenauer’s entry into the race comes as Grassley, 87, mulls a decision whether to seek reelection to an eighth term.
His decision will carry dramatic implications for Iowa and the fate of the U.S. Senate, which is currently deadlocked in a 50-50 split between Republicans and Democrats. Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casts the tie-breaking vote.
Grassley, who has held elected office continuously since 1959, is about as close to a sure bet as Republicans could hope to field in a candidate as they seek to claw back a majority in the Senate. He won his 2016 race by 24 percentage points, despite an onslaught of criticism for his role in blocking Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination that year. It was his narrowest general election victory of the 21st century.
More:U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley: ‘I’m not too worried about what any poll says’
But if Grassley retires, it could open up Republicans to a messy and chaotic primary election, drawing numerous candidates from across Iowa’s political spectrum — and potentially creating an opening for Democrats.
“I’m very hopeful about Iowa,” Finkenauer said, adding that she was seen as an underdog candidate as well when she won election in 2018.
“I’m going to get out there, and I’m going to make sure that every single Iowan across the state knows that they have a champion in me, and that I’m going to do that work for them,” she said.
Finkenauer was scheduled to hold a formal launch event Thursday in Dubuque and tour the state over the coming days, with stops in Waterloo, Des Moines, Sioux City, Council Bluffs, Jefferson and Cedar Rapids.
Finkenauer, 32, who was elected along with a wave of Democratic women nationally, represented Iowa’s 1st Congressional District in Iowa’s northeastern corner, which includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque. She toppled incumbent Republican Rod Blum to swing the district in favor of Democrats that year, but she lost her 2020 reelection bid to Republican Ashley Hinson.
Since leaving office, Finkenauer has been working as a senior adviser to The Next 50, a group focused on increasing youth political engagement.
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Republicans attack begins even before Senate announcement
When news surfaced that Finkenauer was moving toward a Senate campaign, Republicans began attacking her as a failed candidate.
“Iowans know Finkenauer and her disastrous record, it’s why they rejected her last November,” Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement at the time. “No matter how she tries to reinvent herself, Iowans will see that her values and priorities are just the same as AOC’s (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and Chuck Schumer’s. Finkenauer will fall in line with Democrat leadership every chance she gets in hopes to gain media notoriety.”
Finkenauer pushed back against the Republicans’ argument that she can’t win a statewide race after losing her reelection bid in 2020.
“In 2020, Republicans spent millions of dollars to try and make sure that somebody like me — who went to Washington, who voted for pay raises for Americans, who voted for better access to child care, who voted for the best infrastructure investment that our country had ever seen — couldn’t get back to Washington,” she said. “They don’t want people like me there — folks who understand working families and aren’t afraid to fight for them.”
She said that while she was in Congress, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives passed important legislation that would have benefited working families, but it died in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I think it’s about time we have folks willing to get things done and move us forward in a way that actually works for working families here and not Wall Street,” she said.
Other declared, possible candidates
Dave Muhlbauer, an Iowa farmer and a former county supervisor, has also announced he will run as a Democrat for the Senate seat. And retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken, who lost his 2020 Democratic Senate primary bid, is actively considering a campaign.
Other potential Democratic challengers include 3rd District U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, who has not ruled out a run. But Democratic state Auditor Rob Sand said last month he will either seek reelection to his current position or run for governor, not the Senate.
On the Republican side, state Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, has formed a campaign. He said he will challenge Grassley in a primary if necessary.
Though Grassley is unlikely to face a serious primary challenge, a number of Republicans would likely jump into the race in his absence. Among the names being floated are 1st District U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, former acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker and state Rep. Pat Grassley, who is Iowa House speaker and Chuck Grassley’s grandson.
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