Iowa candidates release final ads in lead-up to Election Day

By: - November 4, 2022 4:00 pm

Candidates in Iowa are making their final arguments in TV ads ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. (Illustration by Bakal/Getty Images)

Candidates are making their closing arguments ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections with a last-minute flurry of television ads.

Gov. Kim Reynolds launched a new ad this week in a final blitz in her reelection campaign against Democratic challenger Deidre DeJear, blasting “woke states.” The $900,000 buy puts the ad on digital streaming platform, cable and broadcast stations.

“Here in Iowa, we still know right from wrong, boys from girls, and liberty from tyranny,” the governor said in the ad.

James McCormick, a political science professor at Iowa State University, said the final ads in an election cycle are made as a last push motivating voters to turn out on Election Day. Like Reynolds’ ad contrasting Iowa with liberal states, many of Iowa’s races this election cycle have been “nationalized,” McCormick said, focusing on President Joe Biden’s time in office and U.S. Supreme Court decisions rather than Iowa-specific issues.

With economic concerns from Republicans and fears of abortion bans among Democrats, the last few ads are meant to bring people to the polls.

“It’s going to be a function of turnout here, to see if they can get people out to actually vote their position,” he said.

It’s not the only last minute advertisement launched this week. Democrat Mike Franken, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, also launched a new ad. It highlights Franken’s Iowa roots, working at his father’s machine shop and a meatpacking plant in college before becoming a Navy Admiral.

Grassley released an ad this week focused on accomplishments from his time in office and showing him on a wind turbine in Iowa. While both campaigns’ final ads are selling the candidates’  experience, Grassley and Franken also have released several attack ads in the final weeks. A fact check from the Cedar Rapids Gazette rated a recent Grassley ad claiming his opponent “loves big government” as an “A.”

Other Grassley ads claim Franken wants to make Iowa more like California, and criticizing his comment that President Joe Biden is doing a “fabulous job” despite recent high inflation. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll taken in July found inflation and gas prices were two of the top issues Iowans saw as critical heading into the election.

The third top issue, abortion, is the focus of many of Franken’s campaign ads against Grassley. The campaign released ads in October claiming the incumbent Republican would push for more abortion restrictions federally if reelected in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s overturn in June.

“I didn’t serve nearly 40 years defending our freedoms abroad to watch Chuck Grassley take away basic freedoms here at home,” Franken said in an October television ad.

Back-and-forth in Iowa 3rd District campaign ads

Abortion is also a top issue in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District race, where U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne, a Democrat, is facing a challenge from Republican Zach Nunn, a state senator. The candidates and outside groups have spent over $14 million in the race, according to the most recent finance reports.

Axne has raised about $5.7 million throughout the entire election cycle according to the latest FEC filings, while Nunn has raised $1.7 million in total. In the most recent reporting period, Axne spent more than three times as much as Nunn, with much of the money going toward campaign ads.

Attack ads include claims that Nunn supports an abortion ban without exceptions, and the candidate responded in an ad of his own that he voted for exemptions to save the life of a mother. But other ads have gone after Nunn’s voting record specifically, linking a vote in the Iowa Statehouse on lowering the minimum age for amusement park ride operators to the death of a child at Adventureland Amusement Park in Altoona.

“A tragedy that could have been avoided,” the ad narrator said. “But Zach Nunn took money from Adventureland CEO, then sponsored legislation to loosen amusement park safety rules.”

Nunn’s campaign responded that the “dishonest. Deceitful. Dishonorable.” PolitiFact rated the ad “mostly false,” and KCCI investigative reporter James Stratton said the bill had “virtually nothing” to do with the death.

Attack ads against Axne also have focused on her voting record. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent more than $2 million in the race, and recently put money toward ads on Axne voting by proxy in France on the Inflation Reduction Act.

The Democratic incumbent responded with an ad of her own claiming Nunn and Republicans were “stalking” her children’s social media to find their family trip to France. In an “Iowa Press” interview Oct. 28, she said that Congress typically is in recess during August, which is why she went to France with her family. Over 150 other members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, also voted by proxy on the Inflation Reduction Act, she said.

“I find it offensive that he would bring our kids into this to begin with,” Axne said.

McCormick said advertising in Iowa’s 3rd District race has been emblematic of many national competitive races, which have brought more attention to the candidates’ national party ties than to specific policy points.

“If you look at the ads attacking Cindy Axne for example, it’s been that she’s been closely tied to Pelosi, and on the other side, it’s been that they’re all Trumpites,” he said. “… The large issue has been the nationalization of the races.”

Candidates in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District also released final messages to voters in the end of October. U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, a Republican, gave her last pitch to Iowans in an ad titled “Honor,” highlighting her votes in office that “protected the rights of parents and police.”

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative Super PAC, funded an attack ad against Hinson’s opponent, state Sen. Liz Mathis. It claimed the Democrat supported the “defund the police” movement, featuring a picture of her with a crowd holding a banner for the group Indivisible Iowa at the 2017 Hiawatha Fun Fest parade. KCRG rated the claim an “F,” citing that the national network Indivisible Iowa belongs to did not support defunding the police until five years later.

In response, Mathis launched an ad showcasing her support of law enforcement, and opposition to the “defund the police” movement. In her most recent ad, the Democrat called for viewers to instead focus on their respective voting records on issues like drug costs and federal funds for Iowa infrastructure.

“Let’s skip the scare tactics,” Mathis said. “… Let’s talk about the truth.”

The CLF spent $1.25 million in Iowa’s 2nd District, and $1.1 million in the 1st District race. Another Republican super PAC, Defending Main Street, put in money toward an radio attack ad against Miller-Meeks’ opponent, Christina Bohannan, at the end of October, claiming she also backs the defund the police movement and “radical transgender theory.”

Earlier that month, Bohannan ran an ad against the incumbent Republican for her cosponsorship of the Life at Conception Act in 2021, legislation which would ban abortion with no exceptions. Miller-Meeks has since amended her position to include exemptions, and supported legislation from U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham that would federally ban abortion after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

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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.