Democratic Senate candidates during an appearance on Iowa Press.

Democratic Senate candidates during an appearance on Iowa Press.

Three candidates — Roxanne Conlin, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause — are competing for the Democratic Party’s 2010 nomination for the U.S. Senate and the chance to face Republican Senator Chuck Grassley this fall.   

The candidate who has been in the race the longest is Krause.  Krause served in the state legislature in the 1970s, representing the area around his hometown of Fenton. In 1978, Krause ran for state treasurer, but he lost to Michael Fitzgerald, the Democrat who has served as state treasurer ever since. Krause has held a variety of jobs since then, often working in the transportation field, and he briefly served as a member of the Waterloo School Board. 

Krause was living in semi-retirement in Fairfield when he entered this race for the U.S. Senate in March of 2009. During the past year, Krause has called for getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan immediately.  Krause argues that money would be better spent rebuilding the U.S. economy.

“You can stand up for what you believe in this state,” Krause said earlier this year during a campaign event in Winterset. “And if people think you’re sincere and you’re doing it for a good purpose, I don’t care if you’re in Steve King’s territory, I don’t care if you’re in downtown Des Moines — if you stay where you are with integrity, people will believe you and they will follow you.”

Krause also advocates revamped U.S. trade policies that would impose new tariffs on imported goods. He’s no fan of the North American Free Trade Agreement or the World Trade Organization either. “We are affecting the structure and substainability of our very own society,” Krause said during a forum in March. 

Fiegen is the candidate who has turned most of his rhetorical fire on Conlin rather than on Grassley as Primary Day, June 8th, draws nearer. Fiegen (which is pronounced FEE-gun) served in the state Senate for two years, but lost on two separate attempts in 2002 and 2004 to win that seat back. For the past 22 years, Fiegen has worked as a bankruptcy lawyer out of an office in Cedar Rapids. In August of 2009 Fiegen announced he was running for the United States Senate, touting what he calls “Fiegenomics.”

“I think we need to keep the congress focused on stimulating the economy, monitoring the economy,” Fiegen said during a campaign stop in Tipton last August, “and if it doesn’t improve by the end of 2010 or early 2011, we’ve got to look at a second stimulus package.”

Fiegen argues that Grassley is vulnerable in 2010 because Grassley seems “out of touch” with the times. “He talks about carrying the lunch box when he worked at John Deere, well that was 50 years ago,” Fiegen said earlier this year in Winterset. “Things have changed in Iowa.” 

Fiegen has fiercely challenged fellow Democrat Roxanne Conlin, calling her a party insider who’s not a good fit to run against Grassley in a year when voters are looking to shake things up. “One of the things that we need to talk about is whether we’re going to change the direction of the Democratic Party and change the direction of the country. In my view, Roxanne represents business as usual,” Fiegen said recently on Iowa Public Television.  “…This is really the year of the insurgent and this is really about connecting with the voters.” 

Fiegen has called for an end to federal subsidies for corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel. Fiegen uses the word “baloney” in reply to those who defend the subsidies.  According to Fiegen, the ethanol industry has sold a “bill of goods” to taxpayers.”

Last fall the Iowa Democratic Party’s chairman called Conlin the “big name” candidate best equipped to challenge Grassley. During a telephone interview with Radio Iowa in October, Conlin said “a lot of Iowans” are unhappy with Grassley, particularly because Grassley voted for the Wall Street bailout.

“Even though he is someone I like and someone for whom I have respect for his 50 years of public service, my feeling is that he has simply lost touch with Iowans,” Conlin said. “I don’t like the way that he has been voting. I would be voting differently.”

This is Conlin’s second run for higher office. “I’ve never held public office.  I tried,” Conlin said recently on Iowa Public Television, laughing as she added: “Lord knows I tried.”

She was the Iowa Democratic Party’s unsuccessful nominee for governor in 1982.  Conlin had worked as a deputy state attorney general and as a federal prosecutor in the ’70s. Conlin has pursued several high-profile cases as a trial lawyer, winning a recent class action lawsuit against Microsoft.

Conlin entered college when she was 16 and graduated from law school at the age of 21. “I have been hungry because there was just not enough food in my house to eat,” Conlin said during a Madison County Democrats meeting earlier this year.  “…I worked my way through college.  I worked my way through law school and while I was in law school I decided that I wanted to do with my life was to speak out for those who otherwise would not have had any voice.”

Conlin was the first female trial lawyer to head the American Association of Justice. She’s raised far more campaign money than any other Democrat who has run against Grassley.