BY ELIZABETH MEYER
For Pen City Current
MONTROSE — It isn’t an election year for state or federal candidates, but that didn’t keep Lee County Democrats from gathering Sunday to hear from Iowans seeking the U.S. Senate and governorship.
Mary Jo Riesberg, chair of the Lee County Democratic Party, organized an ice cream social for the second time at Ivor Fowler Community Center in Montrose. The local party’s first summertime ice cream social was held in 2019. There was no such event in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With about 15 months to go until the 2022 mid-term elections, three Democratic candidates got a jump start on meeting local voters: U.S. Senate candidates Abby Finkenauer and Dave Muhlbauer, and potential gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear.
Finkenauer, who represented Iowa’s 1st Congressional District from 2019-2021, was introduced Sunday by her former Iowa House colleague Jerry Kearns.
“There was no greater advocate for working people in the Iowa Legislature than Abby Finkenauer,” said Kearns, who retired in 2019 from his post representing Lee County.
Finkenauer lost her reelection bid last year by 2.6 percentage points to Republican Congresswoman Ashley Hinson. Earlier this month she launched her campaign for Sen. Chuck Grassley’s seat.
“I know there are policies that move us forward and I know there are policies that hold us back, just like I know there are public servants that move us forward and there are politicians that hold us back,” said Finkenauer. “Especially those politicians who have been in Washington, D.C., for decades and have lost sight of what public service is all about.”
Grassley, 87, has served in the U.S. Senate since 1981. He has yet to announce whether he will seek an eighth term in 2022.
Finkenauer, 55 years his junior, criticized Grassley for his unwillingness to forcefully speak out against the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt carried out at the Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
“Sen. Chuck Grassley should have known better, but instead, he didn’t stand up for our democracy. He didn’t push back against the lies that led to that day, and in fact, months later, he was part of pushing that conspiracy forward,” Finkenauer said, referring to Trump’s false claim that President Joe Biden did not rightfully win the 2020 election. “I knew in that moment that it was time we spoke the truth.”
In addition to Finkenauer, Crawford County’s Muhlbauer and Glenn Hurst, a western Iowa physician, are running for Senate on the Democratic side.
Kearns also introduced Muhlbauer, noting that he served in the Iowa Legislature with his father, Daniel Muhlbauer.
A farmer and former Crawford County supervisor, Dave Muhlbauer is new to statewide politics but was the first Democratic candidate to announce his Senate campaign.
“I am running for U.S. Senate because it’s time for Democrats to step up,” said Muhlbauer, noting the warm reception he received from Democrats in conservative Crawford County. “They said, I’m so glad he stood up, now I feel like I can stand up and make change.”
DeJear, a 2018 candidate for Iowa secretary of state and chair of Vice President Kamala Harris’ caucus campaign, has formed an exploratory committee for governor, which allows her to fundraise. She hasn’t formally entered the race to take on Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is expected to seek a second term.
To give the Democrats a sense of hope about their prospects in the governor’s race next year, DeJear noted how Fred Hubbell, the Democratic candidate in 2018, won Lee County by 3.3 percentage points.
“We got to recognize where we made our wins and build upon that. Three percent, compared to what some of the other counties did, is something to brag about,” DeJear said to applause. “It’s something to brag about.”