IA-Sen: Finkenauer Disqualified

An Iowa district judge rejected former US Rep. Abby Finkenauer’s (D) signature petitions late Sunday night, thus disqualifying her from the Democratic primary ballot.

It appeared that she was the party’s early front runner to challenge Sen. Chuck Grassley* (R) in the general election.

Under Iowa law, a statewide candidate must submit 3,500 valid registered voter signatures to obtain ballot position. A side requirement is that at least 100 signatures must come from a minimum of 19 individual counties, and it is here where Ms. Finkenauer barely came up short. While filing over 5,000 signatures statewide, the qualification came down to two of her 19 counties where all but the bare minimum number were rejected outright.

The State Objection Panel, comprised of two Democratic statewide officials and one Republican, had approved the petitions, but Polk County District Judge Scott Beattie said the body was wrong for ignoring the full legal requirements. Three signatures from the two counties in question lacked the date of signature, which is a clear requirement under the Iowa procedure. Republicans then filed their legal challenge arguing that the Objection Panel did not fully adhere to the law.

Judge Beattie agreed, and wrote that though the “court takes no joy in this conclusion,” he had no choice but to enforce the letter of the law.

Ms. Finkenauer immediately claimed the judicial ruling was partisan in nature because Judge Beattie is a Republican. She said his decision is a “massive gift to Washington Republicans,” according to the Des Moines Register newspaper.

She then launched an appeal to the state Supreme Court. The Secretary of State, however, has said he has to see a ruling overturning the decision, if such is to be rendered, before April 15 in order to satisfy the national MOVE Act requirements, which mandates notice of an election at least 45 days prior for overseas and military voters. The Iowa primary is June 7. Therefore, if the Court proceeds with their review, it will have to act within the next couple of days.

It is not yet known what amount Ms. Finkenauer raised during the year’s 1st quarter, but she had already obtained over $1.9 million in contributions prior to 2021 ending. Of that, she reported more than $723,000 in the bank at the December 31 reporting deadline.

Should the state Supreme Court sustain Judge Beattie’s ruling, the Democrats will still feature a credible candidate in their stable. Retired Navy Vice Admiral Mike Franken is in the race and has already released his report showing $1.8 million in campaign receipts with just over $1 million remaining in his federal committee account.

Mr. Franken ran in the 2020 Senate race, raising just under $1 million and finishing second in the Democratic primary to real estate executive Theresa Greenfield but with only 24.9% of the vote.

Ms. Finkenauer was elected to the state House of Representatives from Dubuque in 2014, and re-elected without general election opposition in 2016. She defeated then-Rep. Rod Blum (R) in the 1st District general election of 2018, but lost her first bid for re-election two years later to current US Rep. Ashley Hinson* (R-Marion/Cedar Rapids). Instead of returning for a re-match with Rep. Hinson, Ms. Finkenauer entered the statewide campaign.

It remains to be seen what action, if any, the state Supreme Court will take, but this is yet another example of a candidate failing to properly execute the ballot qualification basics. Considering this and her 2020 loss as an incumbent, an argument could be made that she is not the strongest candidate to face Sen. Grassley who has won 18 consecutive Iowa elections dating back to his original victory for the state House of Representatives in 1958.

At this point in time, polling suggests the seven-term incumbent has a formidable general election lead. The latest poll came from the Cygnal organization (2/20-22; 610 IA likely voters) and the results posted the Senator to a 53-39% advantage over Ms. Finkenauer, which is consistent with earlier polling. Cygnal did not test Mr. Franken as the potential Democratic nominee.

* denotes that the candidate has received a contribution from AGC PAC during the 2021-2022 election cycle. 

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