Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst faces a challenging path to her first reelection in 2020, according to a poll published yesterday.
The first-term incumbent holds only a 47% to 41% lead over likely Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. Ernst also has a 45% favorable and 43% unfavorable rating from Iowa voters.
When voters were informed about how Ernst may have illegally coordinated with a “dark money” group that is supporting her reelection, Greenfield ended up leading, 45% to 40%.
The PPP Poll was commissioned by the End Citizens United organization, and was conducted Dec. 13 to 15, with 944 voters.
End Citizens United only tested Greenfield, a Des Moines businesswoman with a rural background, in the matchup (they also endorsed her earlier this year). Most political watchers view her as the most likely to emerge from the five-way Democratic primary (former TV reporter Cal Woods officially joined the race this week), with Greenfield raising the most money and earning endorsements from many Democratic leaders and organizations. At this point, however, none of them are widely known among Iowa voters outside of activist circles.
The poll only tested one singular message, one that was negative for Ernst, and obviously a full campaign with extremely large spending on both sides will encompass many more issues than that. Still, it suggests that Ernst’s dalliances with “dark money” groups could be a real liability to the senator in the general election.
The poll is a positive sign for Democrats, but it’s still very early in the race. Sen. Chuck Grassley had some worrisome polls early on in the 2016 cycle. Two separate polls put him under 50% as late as June 2016, but he would go on to win by double-digits.
The bigger warning sign for Ernst may be where the poll had Donald Trump at with Iowa voters. He trailed an unnamed Democratic candidate 47% to 49%. It’s unlikely that Ernst over or under-performs Trump by any more than five points, so the top-of-ticket race staying close in Iowa is key here.
Just how competitive Democrats are at the presidential level in Iowa will likely depend greatly on who the party nominates. Those who can do better among the blue-collar areas of the states Democrats lost their traditional advantage on could boost down-ballot candidates.
One place where the Ernst and Trump notably differ is favorability numbers among women. Trump has a 57% unfavorable rating among women, while Ernst has a 47% unfavorable number. Their favorable numbers among women are similar; 41% for Trump and 40% for Ernst.
That seems to be one area that Ernst is vulnerable on if she gets further attached to Trump in the election. Women seem to be the most likely to move on Ernst, who did make history as the first female combat veteran in the U.S. Senate, as well as the first woman elected to federal office in Iowa. After voters were informed about the “dark money” issue, women went from a +2 margin for Greenfield to a +18 margin.
by Pat Rynard