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Abby Finkenauer announces Senate bid in Iowa

By Dan Merica, CNN

Former Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer on Thursday announced she is running for Senate, becoming the highest-profile Democrat vying to possibly take on seven-term incumbent Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.

“I’m running for Senate because Democracy is worth fighting for and Iowa is worth fighting for,” Finkenanuer said in a statement. “I believe that Iowans deserve jobs that aren’t just paychecks but pay enough to build a future, health care that’s affordable, and the opportunity to succeed right here at home in Iowa. And I intend to get it done.”

The Iowa native began her political career as a member of the Iowa House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019. Her rise within the Democratic Party began when she successfully won her first term in the US House by defeating incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum in 2018. Her race, in a district former President Donald Trump won in 2016, helped deliver Democrats control of the House of Representatives in 2018, part of a wave election delivering a stinging rebuke to the first two years of the Trump presidency.

Her tenure in the House was short-lived, however. Finkenauer lost her bid for reelection in 2020 to Republican Ashley Hinson by fewer than three percentage points. And Trump again carried her district, winning nearly 51% of the vote.

Finkenauer would face a tough general election in a state that backed Trump twice. If she is able to overcome those long odds, Biden will gain another dedicated supporter in the upper chamber. Finkenauer worked for Biden’s 2008 presidential campaign in Iowa, and he traveled to the state in 2018 to support her congressional campaign. Finkenauer then became the first member of Iowa’s congressional delegation to endorse Biden, a move that came at a tenuous time for the would-be president.

The former congresswoman is not the only Democrat vying for the Senate seat, but she is the highest-profile name in the race. Dave Muhlbauer, a former county supervisor for Crawford County, announced a Senate campaign in May.

Who the Democratic nominee will face in the general election is an open question.

Grassley, who began his career in politics in 1959 and was first elected to the Senate in 1980, has yet to say whether he will seek reelection and has told CNN he will make his decision at the end of the year.

“September, October or November,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been telling everybody.”

And when asked about possible Republican replacements for him, the 87-year-old fired back: “You’re already assuming I’m not running. I love my work. I’m working hard for the people of Iowa, and I get a lot of support from back home.”

If Grassley runs, almost all political operatives in Iowa believe the seat will remain safely in Republican control — the longtime politician enjoys near total name recognition and deep support. If he doesn’t run, the future of the seat is in doubt and the race becomes easier for Democrats.

Some Republicans are already planning for the possibility the Grassley retires. State Sen. Jim Carlin, who represents the Sioux City, Iowa area, announced a Senate campaign in February, pledging to run against Grassley in the primary if he doesn’t retire.

“I appreciate (Grassley’s) service, as anybody does. But I didn’t get in the race to drop out,” he told the Des Moines Register when he announced.

But if Grassley does retire, a host of other Republicans are expected to eye the seat, including the senator’s grandson Pat Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Finkenauer, in a video about her announcement, lambasts Grassley and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as two people who are “so obsessed with power.”

“Since the Capitol was attacked,” Finkenauer says, invoking the January 6 insurrection, “they’ve turned their backs on democracy and on us. They made their choice. And I am making mine: I am running for the United States Senate.”

Iowa has trended toward Republicans in recent years. Trump won he state by nearly 10 points in 2016 and carried it again by roughly 8 points in 2020. Reynolds, the state’s Republican governor, won her first term in 2018 and Republicans control three of the state’s four seats in the US House. Rep. Cindy Axne, who represents Des Moines and much of Southwest Iowa, is the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation.

But it wasn’t long ago that Democrats had more of a political foothold in the state. Former President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 and 2012, and after the 2018 midterms, Democrats controlled three of the state’s four House seats.

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