Michael Franken says it’s up to Iowans to prove their battleground state status

By: - August 15, 2022 6:47 pm

Retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken spoke at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Democratic Senate candidate Michael Franken said while some national Democrats have written Iowa off, recent polls and election predictions show his and other state races remain competitive.

“Iowa has disappointed Democrats nationwide for too long, so they’re not believing that we can at least this time pull it off,” Franken told reporters Monday. “So it’s up to us, it’s up to Iowa, to prove that differently.”

Franken faces long odds against U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is aiming for his eighth term. Election forecasters like Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball both mark Grassley’s seat as “safely Republican.”

The most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll also showed Grassley holding an 8-point lead. But that lead is much smaller than Grassley has seen in previous elections. The last time Grassley won an election by just 8 percentage points was in 1980, his first U.S. Senate election, and he polled above 50% against his election opponents in previous Iowa Polls.

Franken said he’d like to see more national attention from Democrats on Iowa’s Senate race, but Iowans are generating momentum on their own.

“It would be favorable, yes,” if Democrats focused more on Iowa candidates, Franken said. “But in the meantime, Iowa has done really fine in getting us the closest that anyone has ever come to him.”

Over 100 people watched the retired U.S. Navy admiral speak at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox Monday afternoon, braving the rain with ponchos and umbrellas. On the edges of the crowd, Grassley supporters held up signs for the Republican senator’s re-election campaign and brought flyers to distribute.

Franken told reporters he wasn’t bothered by the Grassley advocates who showed up for his speech.

“Mild heckling in the audience, that’s fine,” Franken said. “That’s milquetoast, frankly. I’ve been in much tougher situations.”

He kept his soapbox speech short, using less than 10 minutes of the 20 given to each politician. But he had other chances to speak with potential voters at the Iowa State Fair: He participated in the fair Veterans’ Parade Monday morning and planned on grilling in the Iowa Pork Producers’ Tent at night.

Supporters of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley held up signs for the incumbent senator’s re-election campaign during a speech from his opponent, retired Navy Adm. Mike Franken at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 13, 2022. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Grassley was also at the state fair Monday, talking with Iowa producers about new legislation on cattle price transparency, and he plans to come back later this week on a visit with former Vice President Mike Pence. But the longtime senator is not scheduled to speak at the soapbox.

He’s one of many Republicans skipping the soapbox this year. There are only three Republican candidates scheduled to speak: Iowa Sen. Zach Nunn, running against U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne in the 3rd district, and candidates for Iowa attorney general and auditor. All three face Democratic incumbents in the November election.

Franken said candidates should speak at more like the soapbox, where they can reach Iowans who may hold differing views.

“I wish all candidates would stand up here and have a discussion,” Franken said during his speech. “And those who don’t want discussion up here, please, let’s at least have a debate.”

Franken challenged Grassley in late July to a series of four debates. No debates have been scheduled so far.

Whether or not debates happen, Franken said he plans to use the final months before the election focusing on rural and suburban areas where he hopes to win over Republicans and independents. He’s nearing the goal of speaking in all 99 of Iowa’s counties, and is making plans to return to places where he can feel a “sea change” coming.

“I trust the judgment of Iowans across the political divide, and the independents, that they will do what’s in their best interest coming up in November,” he said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.