Campaign ads ramp up in final months ahead of 2022 midterms

By: - September 6, 2022 5:39 pm

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and former Navy Adm. Mike Franken are battling for an Iowa U.S. Senate seat in the upcoming election. (Photos courtesy Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch, screenshots from Iowa PBS, photo courtesy U.S. Capitol Police)

With two months left until the midterms, Iowa’s congressional candidates are ramping up their ad campaigns.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and former Navy Adm. Mike Franken both released political ads in the past week, the first for both candidates in the general election cycle. Franken, who aims to stop Grassley from winning an eighth term in the U.S. Senate, launched a video titled “Truth to Power” on Aug. 30, with plans to spend $160,000 airing the ad in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids media markets.

Running against a well-known incumbent, Franken introduced himself in the video, talking about his military experience and highlighting his opposition to the Iraq War. He also criticized Grassley in the ad for taking money from corporate special interest groups.

“I approve this message because corporate special interests are ripping off Iowa families,” Franken said in the video. “We need a senator who doesn’t take their money and isn’t afraid to speak truth to power.”

Two days later, Sept. 1, Grassley released his own ad, taking clips of Franken speaking about rural Iowa at campaign stops. The ad features video of the candidate saying he sees “forlornness in the eye” in rural Iowans, and telling event attendees to “rescue” the state and its reputation.

“It’s not the state that I want for future generations,” Franken said in one clip. “It’s not the state that I want to be buried in.”

“We think Iowans will be shocked as they learn more about Mike Franken’s radical views and low opinion of Iowa,” Grassley spokesperson Michaela Sundermann said in a news release. “No one seeking to represent Iowa has ever been this disrespectful toward the state and its people.”

The ad is a six-figure buy and will air in markets across Iowa, according to a campaign news release. The two new media hits come as both candidates completed “99 county tours” – a Grassley tradition of holding events in every Iowa county to speak with constituents and answer questions directly.

3rd District battles over China policies

Rep. Cindy Axne speaks to reporters on Jan 5, 2022. (Photo by Katie Akin / Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Candidates in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District have been on the air with campaign ads for several months. U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, the only Iowa Democrat currently elected to serve in Washington, released an ad at the end of August accusing her opponent, Iowa Sen. Zach Nunn, of receiving “thousands from a Chinese government owned-business.”

In March, Nunn accepted $2,500 from the Syngenta Political Action Committee. Syngenta was acquired in 2017 by ChemChina, a Chinese government-owned business. The ad also alleges that Nunn supported a tax break that gave Syngenta “more than a million of our (Iowa) tax dollars,” as the company received more than $1.1 million from an Iowa Research Activity Tax Credit in 2021. However, Nunn has not spoken in support of that tax credit policy, and was absent when the state Legislature approved changes in 2018.

Republican congressional candidate Zach Nunn speaks at a campaign event July 6, 2022, in West Des Moines. U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AR, left, also spoke. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Nunn responded to Axne’s new ad campaign with a message from former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who served as U.S. ambassador to China during President Donald Trump’s administration.

“It is absolutely blatant and false,” Branstad said in the video. “She knows it and she should apologize.”

Branstad isn’t the only Trump administration alumnus dipping into the 3rd District race. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who visited Iowa in August, put more than $400,000 into TV ads in the race through his political advocacy group, Advancing American Freedom. The ad focuses on U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg talking about electric vehicles. A man, identified as John McCormick of Churdan, stands with a pickup truck and calls the Biden administration “clueless and out of touch.”

“Here’s my message to Congresswoman Axne: Stand up for policies that would lower gas prices and support American energy production,” McCormick said in the ad. “Not communist China.”

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.

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