1 Week Out: Latest Developments In IA-Sen Primary

By Elizabeth Meyer

May 26, 2020

Iowa’s primary elections are one week away, leaving voters little time to return their absentee ballot or, if they vote in-person, to decide who to support on June 2.

If you still are deciding between candidates, Starting Line wrote a roundup May 12 of news in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary and on May 19, a compilation of new developments in all of Iowa’s federal races.

Candidates across the country have had to campaign exclusively online and over the phone since mid-March, forcing them to get creative in reaching voters. Kimberly Graham on Monday participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) and on Wednesday Theresa Greenfield launches her “Farm Kid Values” GOTV virtual tour with an event featuring leaders in Northern Iowa.

Eddie Mauro and Michael Franken also have been active on social media, hosting near-daily conversations on their respective Facebook pages.

In case you haven’t kept up with each twist and turn of the campaign cycle, here’s what you may have missed in recent news about Democrats’ Senate primary.

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TV Ads

Theresa Greenfield released “Really” Tuesday morning, a knock on Sen. Joni Ernst’s infamous “Squeal” ad from her first run for Senate in 2014.

“Joni Ernst said she’d be different. Well, she didn’t castrate anyone,” Greenfield says in the 30-second spot, referencing a line in Ernst’s ad when she said, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington I’ll know how to cut pork.”

“She cast her votes to let the corporate lobbyists keep feasting like hogs at the trough,” Greenfield said.

In the ad, Greenfield says she wants to “ban corporate PAC money” and “take away their loopholes and special tax breaks” so tax relief can go to “working folks instead.”

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Last week, the Greenfield campaign released “Knock” about her commitment to upholding Social Security and “Support,” which featured a slew of high-profile national and Iowa endorsements.

Eddie Mauro’s latest ad, “Tomorrow,” focuses on his international philanthropic efforts and Des Moines business career.

“I get up every morning with one thought: How can we make Iowa stronger?” Mauro says. “Whether by feeding the hungry, fighting injustice or helping small businesses grow.”

Michael Franken’s TV ad centers on his military career and the endorsement he received from the Des Moines Register. Kimberly Graham, though not on TV, released a three-minute video called “Put People Over Profits” to highlight her biography and how she intends to use her life experiences to help working people as a U.S. senator.

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Outside Spending

Women Vote!, the campaign arm of EMILY’s List, has poured nearly $1 million into a TV ad buy criticizing Franken, a retired Navy admiral, for only recently moving back to Iowa and purchasing a home in Virginia.

“How far would you go to win an election? Ask Michael Franken,” the narrator says.

The ad has incensed Franken’s campaign, who view it as an attack on his 37-year military career.

“Admiral Franken is running an issues-based campaign on health care, lowering prescription drug costs, and taking on special interests,” campaign spokesman Aaron Slutkin said in a statement. “That’s why Mike is Iowa Democrats’ best candidate to defeat Joni Ernst and help flip the Senate in November. Washington groups that accept corporate money, lobbyist money, and dark money have already spent $8 million in an unprecedented effort to boost a candidate in this race — but they don’t get a vote on primary day.”

Michigan Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and others have come to Franken’s defense.

“We should honor the men and women who leave the comforts of home to serve their country — not attack them for their time away,” Slotkin said in a statement. “Nearly all of us who have military or intelligence backgrounds are subject to this attack, but I think most Americans honor such service. I worked with Admiral Franken at the Pentagon, and I respect his willingness to return home to seek to continue to serve.”

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Graham also condemned the ad and called on Greenfield to do the same.

“Iowans deserve to decide who they want to represent them in Washington without interference by outside special interests,” Graham said in a video posted to Twitter. “Drawing distinctions is one thing, but we should debate substance and not attack each other.”

EMILY’s List also has gone after Mauro for past comments on abortion, releasing a four-page opposition research memo on Mauro and Franken.

Sparring At Debates

Three televised debates held last week largely focused on candidates’ biographies, policy proposals and how their beliefs stack up against Ernst.

When there was bickering between candidates, it was mostly aimed at Greenfield and issues around campaign finance.

Greenfield’s critics and primary opponents have said she’s misrepresenting her stance on PAC contributions. Throughout her campaign, Greenfield has said she will not accept “one dime” of “corporate PAC” money. In the debates, her opponents pointed to donations from Democratic leadership PACs such as Great Lakes PAC and Forward Together as evidence of reneging on her pledge.

“The facts are the facts. I haven’t taken one dime of corporate PAC money, and I’m not going to,” Greenfield said May 21 during the WHO-TV debate. “I believe dark money groups should disclose who’s donating to their dark money groups and how they’re influencing our campaigns.”

When asked about contributions to her campaign — which was endorsed from the get-go by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — Greenfield pivots to her “Plan to End Political Corruption,” which includes banning dark money groups, outlawing corporate PACs and enacting a lifetime lobbying ban on all members of Congress.

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Greenfield out-raised her Democratic opponents again during the “pre-primary” fundraising period between April 1 and May 13, bringing in about $1.5 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings. She also out-performed Ernst, who brought in $1.2 million.

Mauro raised $341,509 (including a $200,000 personal loan); Franken brought in $212,569; and Graham raised $57,339.


In addition to the Des Moines Register, Franken also was endorsed by the Storm Lake Times last week.

“Franken is the perfect contrast to Trump and Ernst,” wrote Art Cullen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning publisher, in his May 22 endorsement. “He is studied. He is outraged by deceit. He understands the world. He is brilliant. He knows his way around Washington and the world. He believes in the oath he swore to uphold and defend the Constitution. Isn’t that what we need right now?”


On top of support from Pete Buttigieg and Win the Era PAC, Greenfield also recently was endorsed by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and her Win Big Project, launched to help down-ballot Democrats win U.S. House and Senate races. Locally, the Greenfield campaign rolled out a list of 31 new endorsements from 13 different counties, including Bill Menner, executive director of the Iowa Rural Health Association, Charlie Wishman, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, and Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin, a former gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidate.


By Elizabeth Meyer
Posted 5/26/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.



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