SIOUX CITY — Across Mike Franken’s 64 years, Siouxland is a constant presence.
The retired Navy admiral, who is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate against former Rep. Abby Finkenauer and physician Glenn Hurst, was born in Lebanon, Iowa about 10 miles west of Sioux Center.
Franken’s higher education includes a two-year stint at then-Morningside College. He logged hours lugging animals for then-Iowa Beef Processors in Dakota City. If the Sioux City Musketeers needed the blades on their hockey skates sharpened, Franken was one of those who did it.
After joining the Navy, when Franken said he had four-day weekends between deployment bids, he and his wife, Jordan, found time to venture up to Okoboji, Iowa.
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After he’s breathed his last, Franken said he expects to be laid low in Northwest Iowa. “It will always be my home,” he said.
On Tuesday’s primary election day, Franken will cast a ballot for himself in Sioux City, the same city his family used to reverently consider a “megalopolis.” But he’s not too terribly invested in the poetry of that.
“It’s not a lifelong dream. It is a moment in one’s history of service to the nation, which I personally believe I can be helpful to my fellow citizens in the state of Iowa,” he said.
Bridging divides, getting nods
On the campaign trail, the University of Nebraska grad is quick to talk about how he’s the Democratic candidate who can best connect with rural voters. Which is important considering he’s running in a state where cities are ensconced in vast swathes of cornfields. He believes that ability to connect is owed, in part, to his roots being anchored in Siouxland.
“I’ve got a résumé that extends across a broad expanse of experiences,” Franken said.
To make a point about his rural roots being accepted by people, Franken recalled a time, a few years back, when he was summoned to Rock Valley, Iowa to chat with farmers and agricultural leaders who were complaining about moves the Trump administration made negatively impacting corn prices.
“I took it all in and said ‘well, we should do this instead’ and I got a lot of nods around the table,” he said.
Franken, who finished second in the 2020 Democratic Senate primary to eventual nominee Theresa Greenfield, said he also got plenty of folks nodding in agreement during a stop at the Norelius Community Library in Denison, Iowa in late May.
“I believe they were engaged. I like to leave those events with something like 80% favorable to my candidacy. I don’t drone on with a stump speech. I talk about issues. And when I don’t know, by George, I say it,” Franken said. “I’m heartened to know I’ve got a large agricultural following because I think that reaches across the aisle and I’m going to need that to unseat someone as well-situated as Chuck Grassley.”
Franken said his campaign has had major events in more than half of Iowa’s 99 counties. And regardless of whether or not the venue seats 10 people or 100 people or 1,000 people, Franken said his approach to politicking remains the same.
“Every time I go to a place I let them know who I am,” he said. “And we leave with a large number of supporters. That’s what it takes to win.”
During tour stops, Franken talks about more than spending time on aircraft carriers or being the youngest of nine children born to a schoolteacher and repair shop owner in Sioux County.
He’s proud to mention the work he did with the Defense Department to make it easier for families to have the remains of loved ones, killed abroad in war, returned home. With a push from Franken, Congress approved the exhumation of hundreds of sets of remains recovered from battleships destroyed during the Pearl Harbor attacks. Franken said it made sense that every effort should be made to identify them and, since then, hundreds have been.
While talking about the need to provide quality, single payer healthcare to every Iowan, Franken will talk about being a cancer survivor and having a daughter who’s had to navigate having disabilities.
“She would have great support in one community and the next there would be no support,” his site said.
Even in the realm of gun control, which he believes needs to be bolstered at the federal, Franken will call upon his experiences of going pheasant hunting and having firearms around him as he grew up. “We owe it to our future generations to instill responsible firearm legislation,” he said.
The primary itself appears to be close.
An early May poll by the firm Change Research had Franken with a 2% lead over Finkenauer, which is within the margin of error. In an April poll by the same group, which looked at a general election match-up with Sen. Chuck Grassley, Franken is shown to be three-percentage points behind the seven-term incumbent.
Talking about the races, Franken isn’t taking anything for granted. But he is taking time to reflect on the opportunities presented by a possible victory.
“If I could win on this June 7 date and proceed to win in November, on my birthday, we will have something that’s to happen in Northwest Iowa that has not happened before in our lives: Somebody who has a sentimental, psychological and intellectual attachment (to here)…I believe Northwest Iowans will look at that and say that’s distinct.”
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