Democrat Michael Franken, wearing a U.S. Navy baseball cap, addressed a rain-drenched crowd at the Iowa State Fair Monday.
“We need to put country over party,” he said. “We need to put people over politics.”
Franken, a retired U.S. Navy admiral running for the U.S. Senate, used his seven-minute Des Moines Register Soapbox speech to decry partisan politics and “the politically charged environment that now haunts us.”
Speaking to reporters after the event, Franken said the level of division in Iowa and America was “worrisome.” He compared the separation of political parties in Iowa to divide between the Hutu and Tutsi people in Rwanda, which led to massacres.
“I’ve seen this in other countries,” he said. “I never thought we would be this way in the United States.”
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On the stage, he reminisced about Iowa’s history, including its leadership on same-sex marriage and allowing women to attend graduate schools.
“There’s far more things that make us the same — with the same wants and the same wishes — than what separates us,” he said.
People gathered under ponchos and umbrellas to watch Franken’s short speech. Many attendees wore Franken campaign shirts and greeted him after the event, while others in the crowd hoisted signs for his competitor, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.
“That’s milquetoast, frankly,” he later told reporters of the Grassley supporters in the crowd. “I’ve been in much tougher situations.”
Grassley declined the Register’s invitation to appear on the Soapbox stage.
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A July Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found that 39% of likely voters plan to support Franken in the midterms. That put him 8 percentage points behind Grassley, who has support from 47% of likely voters as he runs for an eighth term in office.
It was the tightest Iowa Poll margin for any Grassley competitor since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate. Franken told reporters Monday that the race was “infinitely winnable.”
“A number of polls show us well into single digits,” he said.
In the 84 days until the midterm election, Franken says he will travel across Iowa — “maximizing our exposure, maximizing our participation.” He plans to finish a 99-county tour this week.
“People want change,” he said. “They want something less cantankerous, less controversial. Less animus.”
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However, nonpartisan election forecasters still put the race in Grassley’s favor. The Cook Political Report rates it “Solid R” in favor of Grassley, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball says it’s “safe” for a Republican win.
Franken said national Democratic groups have overlooked his race because Iowa “has been a disappointment” for those interested in electing Democratic candidates to the Senate.
“I trust the judgement of Iowans across the political divide, and the independents, that they will do what’s in their best interest coming up in November,” he said.
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