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Finkenauer Declares Candidacy For U.S. Senate

Rep. Abby Finkenauer hopes to take on a second term in Washington, representing Iowa's 1st congressional district.
Courtesy of the Finkenauer campaign
Former Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer is the first major Democrat to challenge longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley for his seat. Grassley has not yet said if he'll run for an eighth term.

Former one-term Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer has become the first major Democrat to challenge longtime Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley. The Cedar Rapids Democrat officially declared her candidacy Thursday, echoing familiar messages about empowering working families and taking aim at Grassley and others for their handling of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Finkenauer become one of the youngest women ever elected to Congress during the so-called blue wave election of 2018.

Now, Finkenauer is challenging one of the oldest members of Congress, and one of the longest serving senators in U.S. history. At 87 years old, Grassley is in his seventh term, having served in the Senate longer than Finkenauer has been alive.

Back in 2018, Finkenauer ousted Republican incumbent Rep. Rod Blum in a district thought to be a very competitive seat, going on to become one of the first women to ever represent Iowa in the U.S. House, along with Rep. Cindy Axne.

Two years later, she lost that seat to Republican challenger Ashley Hinson during an election that delivered critical wins to the GOP up and down the ballot.

Now, Finkenauer hopes to stage another upset: unseating a Senator considered to have near-universal name recognition and decades of experience in winning over Iowa voters.

Finkenauer hosted an official campaign launch event in Dubuque Thursday morning, with plans to make stops in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Des Moines, Jefferson, Sioux City and Council Bluffs in the coming days.

In a video released Thursday morning, Finkenauer said Grassley and others in power didn’t do enough to stand up for democracy in the wake of the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

“They think they own democracy and they were silent when it was attacked. You see, it’s politicians like Senator Grassley and Mitch McConnell who should know better but are so obsessed with power that they oppose anything that moves us forward,” Finkenauer said.

“Since the Capitol was attacked they’ve turned their backs on democracy and on us. They made their choice and I’m making mine. I’m running for the United States Senate,” she said.

Iowa politicos may have noticed a distinct shift in Finkenauer’s public statements on social media in recent months, as she’s taken to calling out opponents more directly, as she did with some of Grassley’s tweets in opposition to Senate Bill 1, an elections overhaul package aimed at protecting and expanding voting rights.

“@ChuckGrassley literally pushed propaganda questioning legitimacy of our election,” Finkenauer tweeted. “The bill he’s so worried about cracks down on foreign interference & protects all Americans right to vote. So much gaslighting. He doesn’t get to get away with it anymore.”

In a written statement in response to Finkenauer's campaign announcement, Grassley Committee advisor Jennifer Heins called her "out of touch and out of office".

"Ex-Rep. Finkenauer is too radical for Iowa, which is why Iowans fired her just last year, giving her the distinction as the first member of Congress from Iowa to lose re-election after just one term in more than fifty years," Heins' statement reads in part. "Finkenauer wants Washington to control Iowans' lives with more taxes, regulation and big government."

Born and raised in Dubuque County and the daughter of a union pipefitter-welder and a public school employee, Finkenauer is echoing familiar campaign themes like empowering working families and improving quality of life in a state that for decades has seen the erosion of many rural communities and the exodus of many young Iowans.

“Our campaign is about you. It’s about the working families like the one that I grew up in. It’s about our young people who have left and the Iowans left behind by those at the top,” she said in her campaign video. “It’s about those who’ve been knocked down and getting back up together.”

A former state representative first elected at age 24, Finkenauer has spent much of her adult life in public office.

Grassley has not yet said if he’ll run for an eighth term, repeatedly telling reporters he’ll announce his decision in "September, October or November". Long thought to have an undisputed lock on his seat, a recent survey indicates support for Grassley may be eroding.

A recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll released last month indicated that nearly two thirds of Iowans want someone new in the office, including 37 percent of Republican voters.

Speaking to IPR last month, Grassley said if he runs again, he’ll be ready for a robust campaign.

“The thing that would lead to defeat if I were running again, or when I decide to run again, whatever the case might be, if you thought you could be reelected without campaigning, you’d be defeated I think,” Grassley said. “People in Iowa don’t want to be taken for granted.”

At least one other Iowa Democrat has declared their candidacy for the Senate seat: in May, former Crawford County Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer announced his bid.

A farmer who raises cattle and hogs in southwest Iowa and who hails from a Democratic political family, Muhlbauer has made the case for his party to rebuild relationships in rural Iowa and has touted his experience of winning tough races in Republican-leaning areas.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter