Former U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, officially launched her campaign for U.S. Senate at a Dubuque event Thursday morning, surrounded by longtime supporters, family and friends.
"Our values as Iowans are the same -- like respect, truth, getting things done, and actually standing up for our democracy," she said, to a crowd of 60 at the UAW Local 94 hall. "Those things aren't supposed to be Democratic or Republican. We're going to remind folks that they can send somebody to D.C. who can represent all of those."
The Dubuque County native served one term in Congress, representing Iowa's First Congressional District, from 2019 to earlier this year.
The Senate seat she is campaigning for is currently held by Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has held it for 40 years.
Finkenauer lost her first re-election race for Congress last November to Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson. Hinson won with 51.2%, to Finkenauer's 48.6%. In that race, Hinson beat Finkenauer in all but three of 20 counties in the district — Dubuque, Linn and Johnson.
But even with so recent a loss in the rearview, Finkenauer told the Telegraph Herald on Wednesday that a lot has happened since election day, which she feels has Iowans wanting change.
In particular, she said the memories of the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and the misinformation she said fueled it, are plenty fresh in voters' minds.
"We have politicians in Iowa who, quite frankly, never stood up to it (misinformation) or in fact even perpetuated it, putting our democracy in jeopardy," she said Wednesday. "That’s the type of stuff you don’t forget."
Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann told the Telegraph Herald he agreed with Finkenauer that Washington will have a lot to answer for, given the last few months. But he disagreed on what that is.
"We've got trillions and trillions of dollars that have been spent, that by any stretch of the imagination we can call waste and inefficient. We have the beginnings of inflation ... We have absolute chaos on the southern border," he said. "I don’t think that helps Abby Finkenauer."
Finkenauer said she also was inspired by her experience with the obstruction she said she faced from the Senate during her term in Congress — particularly on prescription drug reform and rural infrastructure investment.
"Unfortunately the Senate (then controlled by Republicans) never touched it ... refused to pick it up and vote on it," she said.
Finkenauer also said some of that work was what led to a huge national Republican campaign of ads aimed against her in 2020.
"When you do those types of things, they spend millions of dollars trying to take you out. They succeeded," she said. "In 2022, I’m going to make sure that we have every resource we can get when it comes to making sure our grassroots donors in Iowa are with us."
The elephant in the room when discussing this race is whether Grassley will decide to run again. He would begin his next term at 89 years old. He has insisted on not announcing his intentions for 2022 until this fall. Finkenauer, though, said that has no bearing on her own intentions.
"This race isn’t about Senator Grassley," she said. "This race is about Iowa, our country and democracy. We have to have people who actually get it, who don’t just read about working families in textbooks, but have actually lived it."
Even so, Finkenauer said she has been disappointed in Grassley's service recently — particularly when she compares it to his past work with former Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.
"I watched them work together, sometimes disagree, but that was fine," she said. "It’s what actually gave me a lot of hope about public service and how it was supposed to work. The last few years, we have not seen that from Senator Grassley."
Finkenauer pointed to recent months in particular.
"There’s this bipartisan infrastructure plan they’re working on with the White House weekly at this point," she said. "I would have put money on it that, even 10 years ago, Senator Grassley would have been there. Where is he now?"
Jennifer Heins, an adviser to the Grassley Committee, was quick to respond to news of Finkenauer's announcement, saying in a release that Finkenauer was "too radical for Iowa."
"(That) is why Iowans fired her just last year, giving her the distinction as the first member of Congress from Iowa to lose re-election after just one term in more than 50 years," she said.
Dave Assmus, of Dubuque, supports Finkenauer as a way to de-politicize Washington.
"She makes decisions based on what is best for the people, not just the Democratic Party, knowing that there may be pushback," he said. "Currently, decisions are made to keep the (Republican) Party in power. That doesn’t serve Iowans short term or long term."
J.J. Keene, of Dubuque, took off work for UAW Local 94 to attend Thursday's event. He said that he thought it was time for a change.
"Not that Grassley doesn’t have family values, but I agree with (Finkenauer) — you’re in office so long, you lose sight of what the everyday family does," he said.
Before worrying about Republicans, Finkenauer would have to secure the Democratic nomination in the primary. So far, the only other Democrat to file is Dave Muhlbauer, a family farmer and former Crawford County supervisor.
Finkenauer did not dwell on her fellow Democratic competition.
"I can’t speak for Dave. I’m sure he’s great," she said. "I know who I am. I know who I fight for."