Retired Admiral Michael Franken announces a run for Joni Ernst’s Senate seat

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Video still of Michael Franken, Aug. 26, 2019.

Retired Navy Admiral Michael Franken announced Monday that he is running for the U.S. Senate. Franken, who grew up in rural Sioux County, Iowa, and currently lives in Sioux City, is the fourth candidate to join the race for the Democratic Party nomination. The winner will face incumbent Sen. Joni Ernst in the November 2020 general election.

“My emphasis is to convince Iowa that the Democratic Party represents Iowans,” Franken told the Des Moines Register. “We represent national security. We represent health security, and fair play, and non-special interests, and corporate fair play and a future that’s not belaboring our children with the deficit. So I will have a lot of messages, but the first thing I’d like to do is shake a lot of hands and let people get to know me.”

Franken served in the Navy for almost 40 years, reaching the rank of vice admiral. He retired in 2017.

This is Franken’s first run for elective office, but he is no stranger to Washington D.C. and politics. During his naval career, Franken worked with Congress as the Navy’s chief of legislative affairs. He was also assigned by the Navy to work as staff member for Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. After he retired, Franken worked as a consultant in Washington. He moved back to Iowa to run for Senate.

Franken is the first Democrat from western Iowa to announce a run for Senate. The other three Democrats in the race—Kimberley Graham, Eddie Mauro and Theresa Greenfield—are all from the Des Moines area.

Earlier this month, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker announced he would not run for Senate. In a statement posted on his site, Walker said he had given serious consideration to challenging Ernst, and that his “candidacy would’ve helped bring a broader, more diverse coalition of voters into the political process” and “would’ve inspired a much-needed conversation about the future of the Democratic Party.”

One important reason Walker cited for his decision was “Running would have meant entering a primary contest that was already heavily skewed in favor of one candidate.” Shortly after real estate executive Theresa Greenfield announced her candidacy, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) endorsed Greenfield.

Walker wasn’t only the Iowa Democrat unhappy with the DSCC’s intrusion into a primary race.

“It was just a little disappointing that they made the decision so quick,” J.D. Scholten told Roll Call, when the DSCC endorsement was announced.

Time reported in June that Sen. Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, directly discouraged Scholten from running, telling him, “We don’t need a primary.” Scholten ultimately decided to run for Congress again in Iowa 4th District.

Franken told the Register that he had been encouraged to wait until 2022 to run for Senate in order to challenge Chuck Grassley instead. He did not say who had encouraged him to wait.

In a campaign video posted to YouTube Monday morning, Franken stressed his willingness to stand up against political pressure: “I was trained to not bow to political pressure, and to do what’s right.”


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“Republicans are afraid to ever stand up to Donald Trump,” Franken said in the video. “And D.C. Democrats aren’t bold enough to confront the climate crisis, the health care industry and Wall Street.”

Franken did not have a campaign site at the time of his announcement on Monday morning.

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