Senate Democratic candidates contrast experience, identity in primary lead-up

It’s the home stretch for candidates in Iowa’s primary races, and those competing in the Democratic Senate primary are using their last few days on the campaign trail to emphasize to voters why they’re the best chance to win the U.S. Senate seat come November.

It’s not just policy points, but life experiences that voters casting their ballots in the June 7 primary election care about, candidates in Iowa’s Democratic Senate primary argued. 

For former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, it’s being a young woman. For retired Navy Adm. Michael Franken, 64, it’s his military service. For city councilor Glenn Hurst, 52, it’s his time as a medical provider in rural Iowa. All three candidates say they’re best suited to understand and tackle the nation’s current issues in Washington, D.C. because of the lives they have led.

Finkenauer, 33, has talked on the campaign trail that she’s uniquely equipped in this race to talk about abortion access.

“It is why we need somebody standing on the floor in 2023 in the United States Senate who is a woman of childbearing age, who does actually have a personal stake in this,” she said at an Iowa Press debate in May. “It is absurd to me that we don’t have more voices standing on that floor right now.”

Following the Roe v. Wade leak in May, Democrats nationwide renewed pushes for federally codifying abortion rights. In previous election cycles where abortion was in the national spotlight, more women have found success in primaries, Democratic strategist Jeff Link said. 

Democratic candidate Patty Judge’s campaign rallied against U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s vote against Attorney General Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court nominee in 2016. Roxanne Conlin, who ran in 2010, platformed the “right to choose” in her campaign.

“I think if people only have a little bit of information on each candidate, I think there’s a huge advantage in being a woman in a statewide Democratic primary,” Link said.

All three candidates support abortion rights. Hurst, who runs a medical practice in Minden, said he approaches the issue as a health care provider. He said having helped guide women as patients through the process of considering and finding abortion service shaped his approach to abortion access, and to supporting health care policies like Medicare for All.

“I see this very much as an issue of the role the federal government should have in any medical decision, which is an overstep,” he said. “The only person who should be making this choice is the person making it, with access to unfettered advisement of a medical provider.”

Personal experience isn’t the only factor at play: On the campaign trail, candidates are also highlighting their political bonafides.

The war between Russia and Ukraine shows the benefits of having someone in office with military experience, Franken’s political director, Rep. Ras Smith, said. Franken retired as a vice admiral in the Navy after serving for 39 years, and worked with U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy in Washington as a legislative liaison.

“We’ve got a candidate that’s bringing global experience,” Smith said….

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