Challenger Mike Franken swears he can beat Sen. Chuck Grassley this November.
“There’s a sea change out there. You can feel it,” the retired three-star Navy admiral said during a visit to Storm Lake on Friday.
Franken is wrapping up a 99-county tour in Northwest Iowa, appropriate for the Sioux County native of Lebanon, pop. 12. He had 60 show up in Grundy Center, with a similar size crowd in Audubon. He greeted 100 Bob Ray Republicans and independents at an Okoboji fundraiser hosted by Judy Thoreson, from an Algona blue blood family that can’t abide Trump. She worked on Grassley’s first congressional campaign. Her husband Dick was a Marine colonel. Guests took yard signs saying they believe Franken can beat Grassley.
“That’s an act of bravery in Dickinson County,” Franken said.
He’s counting on independent and moderate Republicans to “put country over party, people over politics.”
The Des Moines Register-Mediacom Iowa Poll six weeks ago showed Franken trailing Grassley by eight percentage points. Where is he now? Closing the gap, he says, within the margin of error. Full steam ahead.
“This race is eminently winnable,” Franken said. “As retired Republican Congressman Jim Leach says, it’s not a question of if Franken wins, but by how much. Tom Harkin says that this is the race that no one expects.”
Franken, 64, said his listening stops tell him that Iowans are tired of Grassley, 88, who has served in elected office since 1959 and in the Senate since 1981. They’re suspicious of the status quo. He said that abortion being in play has changed the dynamic. It’s not the first question, but it’s the fifth or sixth.
“Animus between all of us is the Number One issue,” Franken said. “Relationships are strained, friendships are broken, families aren’t talking in places like Lebanon, where it’s a big part of life. We have to stop it.”
Those two issues are moving voters. National polls show Democratic enthusiasm nearly matching Republicans. Franken said now that Iowans realize they will have to go to Nebraska for women’s reproductive health services, the politics surrounding abortion have changed.
He pointed to West Point graduate Pat Ryan’s recent Democratic win in a special congressional election in New York’s Hudson Valley, considered a bellwether. That race pivoted around Roe v. Wade.
Franken is running well with Grassley among independents, the Iowa Poll reported. Franken said he has the funds to raise his name ID from 75% to 95%. He claimed that Grassley, with 99% of voters being well aware of him, has only one direction to go among independent voters: down.
“People want something different,” Franken said.
He is that. He was in charge of the military response to Ebola in Africa. He was President Obama’s legislative liaison on appropriations with the Defense Department. He knows more about Pentagon waste than Grassley, who made his name as a penny pincher complaining about expensive procured toilet seats.
Franken holds advanced degrees in physics. Friday night he went on a little jag at Steve and Diane Hamilton’s Casino Beach home with about 25 local Democrats over ethanol, suggesting that you could use the heat and carbon dioxide to fuel grow houses as an alternative to pipelines. It sounds out there in Buena Vista County, but it also makes tons of sense when land is fetching $22,000 per acre.
When he goes down rabbit holes his wife and driver, Jordan, reminds him to stay on point about education: that teachers who live in Northwood, Iowa, work in Minnesota because the pay is $2,000 better and they are not under attack from the governor. She’s from California, has lived all over as a Navy wife, and is relieved enough to finally land in Iowa. They genuinely appear to be having fun on the road together. What’s the secret to 33 years of marriage?
“Deployments,” she said.
The dutiful husband laughed. He’s planning to ship out for DC come November. He said he never thought he would lose. All is going to plan, he maintained. He raised more funds than Grassley the past two quarters. He was shunted aside by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, but under persistent questioning about that he said that he had no worries about money. Ads are going up soon, he said — you’ll see. Jordan was champing to say something about Washington power elites, and then he started bragging about how he still has all 10 digits after working in the SiouxPreme packinghouse and the family machine shop, and how the family farm was suffocated while Chuck Grassley watched.
“That’s where my heart is, that’s what we’re about,” Franken told his wife as they locked smiling eyes. It’s one heck of an act. There’s something genuine brewing here. Nobody has had Grassley in this position before. They’re loving life and where they’re at right now.
“We are going to win. And, I will predict we will have something on the order of 55 Democratic senators, and we will keep control of the House,” he told the Storm Lakers. That’s bold, but so is running against Grassley with a certain sort of joy.