DES MOINES, Iowa – The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday that Democratic Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer qualifies for the primary ballot, rejecting a lower court decision and allowing her to continue her campaign for the nomination and the chance to face longtime Republican Sen. Charles Grassley.
The court’s unanimous decision leaves Finkenauer as the likely front-runner in a race with two lesser-known candidates ahead of Iowa’s June 7 primary. The winner will run against Grassley, who is seeking an eighth term in the Senate.
“This is a moment for all advocates for democracy — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — to celebrate the enduring strength of our democratic process and a reminder to never take it for granted,” Finkenauer said in a statement.
She said it's more than a victory for her campaign but about justice for Iowans and democracy prevailing over “meritless partisan attacks orchestrated by Washington Republicans and allies of Senator Grassley seeking to silence Iowans and undermine the democratic process.”
Her lawyer, Gary Dickey, said the court put politics aside to reach the correct legal result.
The lawyer for the Republican objectors, Alan Ostergren, said the Legislature needs to change the law, listing what must be on a nominating petition and the consequences of failing to do so.
“The only reason these issues were litigated is that the Abby Finkenauer campaign failed to turn in enough signatures to have a comfortable margin — something every other political campaign was able to do this cycle,” he said.
Grassley campaign spokeswoman Michaela Sundermann criticized Finkenauer for previously calling the challenge a partisan attack instead of admitting fault. Grassley obtained signatures from each of Iowa’s 99 counties, collecting nearly three times more than the 3,500 required by law, she said.
“Sen. Chuck Grassley does not take the people of Iowa for granted. He follows the law and goes above and beyond the requirements to qualify,” she said
The court rejected a lower court's ruling that found that Finkenauer failed to meet a state law that requires candidates to submit at least 100 signatures from at least 19 counties to qualify for the ballot. The justices agreed that a Polk County judge was wrong when he ruled that three signatures from two counties were invalid, leaving Finkenauer without enough signatures.
The court said the Legislature last year passed new sections of the law that identified specific circumstances when objections to petitions should be sustained.
“The legislature did not include missing or incorrect dates as one of the grounds for sustaining an objection to a petition. We conclude that the recent legislation prevails," the court said.
The court acknowledged it wasn't an easy decision.
“Statutory interpretation is not like proving math theorems, and it is sometimes difficult to come up with a neat answer that is intellectually satisfying. In the end, we believe we must be guided by the legislature’s last word on the subject,” it said.
The ruling affirmed an earlier decision by an election panel that Finkenauer had qualified for the ballot. Two Republican activists had brought the initial challenge and appealed the panel’s decision to the district court.
Polk County Judge Scott Beattie ruled against Finkenauer. Beattie was appointed in 2018 by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who also appointed four justices to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Finkenauer, of Cedar Rapids, was one of the first woman elected to the House from Iowa and was the second-youngest female House member in U.S. history, winning election in 2018 at the age of 29 and just 10 months older than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York.
Others seeking the Democratic nomination are Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral, and Glenn Hurst, a doctor and Minden City Council member.
Any of the Democrats would be viewed as long shots against Grassley, who has held elected office since 1959. He was elected to the U.S. House in 1974 and to the Senate in 1980.
This story has been corrected to show Finkenauer’s hometown is Cedar Rapids, not Dubuque.