A farmer from Crawford County with a family history of winning as a Democrat in rural Western Iowa announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Chuck Grassley today. Dave Muhlbauer, 37, a recent county supervisor and fifth-generation family farmer, kicked off his bid with a video that sought to redefine to Iowa voters what a rural Democrat looks like.
“We are the old-school, farming, labor Democrats. We’re for that middle class,” Muhlbauer says in a well-produced video.
Muhlbauer, who lives in rural Manilla, addresses Democrats’ biggest problem in the state head-on in the video: the party’s dismal brand in rural areas. Noting that many middle-aged farmers come up to him and explain how they used to be Democrats, Muhlbauer lays out a more populist style for the party.
“I think people are just fed up, they’re stretched thin. Wages aren’t making what they should be. The cost of living is going up. To see these corporations only continue to stack things in their favor through policy, procedure and lobbying,” he says as an image of a Tyson meatpacking plant is shown in the background. “To see CEOs make a thousand times more than general labor, it’s highway robbery.”
“They forget who the rural Democrats truly are,” he continues. “We’re looking out for the little guy. We know there needs to be a safety net for people to get back on their feet.”
The Muhlbauers are a well-known name in Western Iowa. Dave’s father Dan, who passed away last October, served two terms in the Iowa House in the Carroll-based district. He was one of the last Democrats to represent a mostly-rural seat west of I-35, back when Democrats still performed better among the kind of Catholic voters that live in and around Carroll. Dave’s uncle Louis was also a legislator from the area.
Dave Muhlbauer served on the Crawford County Board of Supervisors until his defeat by just 95 votes last year — a far closer race than most Democrats see in that area of the state. During his time on the board, he was the county’s representative to the Iowa State Association of Counties.
The campaign announcement stressed his desire to build up a grassroots campaign.
“As a farmer raising corn, beans, alfalfa, hogs and cattle, Muhlbauer has seen first-hand the devastation of rural communities at the hands of policies that cater to corporate interests and profits instead of working people,” the press release read.
Not mentioned once in the video is the Republican incumbent. Grassley, 87, who would be well into his mid-90s during an eight term, has said he won’t make his reelection decision until this fall. Some believe that is simply Grassley delaying his retirement announcement in order to freeze the Republican primary field to give the party establishment’s favored candidate plenty of time to prepare. Others think that Grassley, who keeps up a busy work and exercise schedule, really does plan on another bid.
If Grassley does run again, that obviously makes it far more difficult for Democrats to turn the seat into a competitive race.
The Democratic primary field could grow in the months to come, especially if Grassley decides to retire. Other Democrats to watch for their decisions are Rep. Cindy Axne, former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, two-time congressional candidate J.D. Scholten and retired Admiral Mike Franken, who came in second place in the party’s 2020 Senate primary.
by Pat Rynard