Three Democrats running for the US Senate took aim at Republican Chuck Grassley during a forum Saturday in Des Moines, challenging the audience to weigh which candidate is best suited to take him on in November.
“It’s time for us to run a candidate against Chuck Grassley that can win,” said candidate Glenn Hurst, a city council member and doctor from Minden.
At 88 years old, Grassley is seeking an eighth term in the US Senate. His most recent election against former Lt. gov. Patty Judge was his closest since first taking office in 1980 — and he won by 24 percentage points.
Hurst cast himself as the “prairie progressive” who could reverse the losing streak, arguing Democrats should lean into their values and emphasize their differences with Republicans.
“I’m running on Democratic principles and Democratic priorities: health care for all, access to immigration into this country, setting rules reform and a woman’s right to control her own body,” he said. “These are imperatives. These are things that contrast us to Chuck Grassley, and when we put forward a kind of candidate like that, that’s when Iowa will thrive.”
Hurst is the more progressive candidate of the three, and he said Saturday he “unequivocally” supports policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.
More:Iowa Sens. Ernst, Grassley vote ‘no’ as Judge Jackson is confirmed to the US Supreme Court
Abby Finkenauer, a former US congresswoman and state legislator, took a more moderate approach to those policies, saying she supports an expanded Medicare system for those who want it in addition to employer-based private health insurance, and she said she voted against the Green New deal while she was in Congress.
She leaned on her record in Congress and said it demonstrates the kind of policies and resolve that will help Democrats defeat Grassley.
“You can look at my record all day long. I’m proud of it,” she said. “I have voted for lower prescription drug prices already. I have voted for paid family leave. I have voted for rural infrastructure. I have voted for the DREAM Act. I have voted to put us back into the Paris Climate Accord. You name it I am proud of what I’ve done, because this is my home.”
More:3 Democrats are vying to take on Chuck Grassley; 3 Republicans want to oust Cindy Axne
Mike Franken, a retired US Navy admiral, highlighted his military record throughout the forum and said his background “neutralizes” many Republican talking points about Democrats. He said he believes Grassley would have to debate him during a general election because of his record of service.
“I’m a tough target for the GOP,” he said. “I’m a problem. I steal from them their entire narrative. It doesn’t exist. It’s laughable. … I will outwork Chuck Grassley. I will not give him a dignified retirement. I will give him a forcible retirement.”
Iowa Unity Coalition, a political action committee that supports progressive candidates, hosted the forum. About 30 people were in attendance.
It comes as the primary election season begins to heat up. All three candidates have initially qualified to appear on the primary ballot, though Republicans are challenging Finkenauer’s petition. They say some of her signatures are invalid and should disqualify her from competing.
An Iowa judge is weighing that question and could issue an opinion in the coming days, though the losing party is expected to appeal the issue to the Iowa Supreme Court.
More:Abby Finkenauer’s place on the Iowa primary ballot is being challenged. Here’s what to know.
“I was impressed with all three of them, really,” said Kevin Shilling, a 68-year-old Greenfield resident who attended the event.
Shilling said he had voted for Grassley until the early 2000s when he became disillusioned with him, particularly over what Shilling said was a lack of support for veterans. Now, he wants someone who can stand up to the masses over false claims of stolen elections.
“I mean, we’re lucky to have candidates that are concerned about working for the people instead of the party,” he said. “And that that is a huge game-changer for me.”
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach out to email@example.com or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.