Despite the national outrage over Senate Republicans’ healthcare bill, Senator Joni Ernst hasn’t suffered much fallout in her popularity numbers in Iowa, James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported yesterday. Looking at the Morning Consult Senate Approval Rankings that polls every senator, Ernst’s approval rating has remained steady at 47% from September 2016 to April of this year and now this July. Her disapproval number is actually down two points from April, though that’s within the margin of error. Most senators around the country have seen their approval rating drop during the contentious healthcare debate.
This is a problem for Iowa Democrats.
The party very much hopes that Ernst’s first reelection in 2020 will be a tough one. There’s opportunity there, especially with the potential that Donald Trump will struggle in his bid for a second term, or at least not be as popular in Iowa as he was in 2016. But there’s concern that if she’s able to get her first reelection under her belt, the 47-year-old Ernst will solidify her standing and be in office as long as Grassley has been.
Right now Ernst should be going through her biggest test yet as senator, with a recent poll showing just 12% of Americans approve of the Senate GOP healthcare bill. But despite several contentious town hall forums, the broader Iowa population doesn’t seem to be connecting the unpopular legislation and its dire impacts with Ernst.
As I wrote back in December during the IDP chair race, Democrats need to be forming a long-term messaging effort on Ernst. We saw the problems with this with Grassley’s reelection last year, in which there wasn’t a years-long strategy to degrade Grassley’s popularity, and the full-court messaging barrage from the party on him came mostly in the year of the election.
Looking back through my inbox for press releases, there have only been a small handful from the party or allied groups targeting Ernst, though that picked up some this week with the IDP’s focus on Ernst’s town halls. There has been plenty of continued criticism for Grassley, especially during his role in the Neil Gorsuch nomination to the Supreme Court (especially with lingering anger from the Merrick Garland ordeal). But the simple fact of the matter is this: Chuck Grassley will not be running for reelection. Joni Ernst will, just three years from now.
If Democrats can’t drive down Ernst’s popularity during a time when Republicans are threatening to take away healthcare access from hundreds of thousands of Iowans, when will they?
by Pat Rynard