The end of the Iowa caucuses did not bring with it a pivot to other federal races as expected, due to the uncertainty that still racks the results three days after caucusing concluded.
But U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s first election year fundraising cycle is now underway, bringing with it questions of her strength as an incumbent as the November general election draws closer.
Theresa Greenfield, seen as Ernst’s likely challenger in the fall, out-raised Iowa’s junior Republican senator between July 1 and Dec. 31, the first two full fundraising quarters they both were in the race. During that time, Greenfield raised $2.7 million to Ernst’s $2.6 million.
In the fourth fundraising quarter, between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, Ernst raised $1.7 million compared to Greenfield’s $1.6 million. Ernst ended the quarter with $4.9 million in cash-on-hand and Greenfield has $2.2. million.
Ultimately, Ernst came out on top in 2019, raising $5.4 million to Greenfield’s $3.4 million. (Greenfield was not a candidate in Q1).
— Joni Ernst (@joniernst) January 15, 2020
With the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, big-name Democratic organizations and grassroots donors, Greenfield has far outpaced the other Democrats in the race.
“I think we have a primary with relatively unknown candidates, and having a financial advantage is a tremendous asset for Greenfield,” said Jeff Link, a Des Moines-based Democratic strategist who worked on Democrat Bruce Braley’s 2014 campaign against Ernst.
Late in 2019, Greenfield chose to leave her job as president of a small business to focus on the Senate race full time.
With the ability to get up on television, Link said, Greenfield “will be able to introduce herself to voters. My guess is she’ll do some version of her announcement video, which I thought was really well done. She’ll try and establish some rural connection and bonafides.”
In Q4, Mauro reported raising $1,555,489. Nearly all of that money came from a $1.5 million personal loan. During this same time, he also repaid $850,000 in a previous loan. FEC records show he ended the quarter with $53,489 in individual contributions. At the close of the quarter, he had $1.4 million in cash-on-hand.
Michael Franken, a retired Navy admiral, raised $183,405 in Q4. He ended the quarter with $124,785 in cash-on-hand. Included in his Q4 fundraising report was a $50,000 personal loan. Between July 1 and Dec. 31, the two fundraising quarters he was in the race, Franken raised $333,720.
” … I think Mauro will probably be on television to a certain degree because he’s willing to self-fund,” Link said. “Voters are not going to get a good sense of who Michael Franken is, because I don’t think he’s going to have the resources to tell them.”
Indianola attorney Kimberly Graham, who has been campaigning for the Senate seat since May 2019, has not filed a year-end report with the FEC, according to records available on the Federal Election Commission website. The deadline to submit Q4 filings was Jan. 31.
In a statement Friday morning to Starting Line, the Graham campaign said “our FEC compliance person did not file our 2019 Q4 report with the FEC. We do not yet know why this occurred.” The campaign said it was in contact with the FEC to obtain an extension and are hiring a new compliance officer.
“Transparency is important to us and we are committed to ensuring that our reports are published on time,” the campaign said.
Her prior two filings show her campaign was bringing in the least amount of money, raising $31,829 between April 1 and Oct. 31.
“It think it’s a bit of a misnomer to say Greenfield is leading,” said Travis Lowe, a Des Moines-based media consultant. “Like, it’s a route. And I think it shows a lot of strength that Theresa has in this campaign. Maybe it’s happened in the past, but I can’t recall Democrats having a Senate candidate, who is a challenger, heading into the on-year with $2 million in the bank. I think it’s got to be close to unprecedented, and I think it shows a lot of strength.”
Though Ernst and Greenfield are running quite close in terms of fundraising, Lowe cautioned against complacency, noting the millions more that Ernst will collect as she works to win a second, six-year term.
“Republicans are not going to lose this race for lack of resources,” he said. “Where she’s at relative to other states, other candidates, what she’s done in the past, I’m not sure that’s super relevant ’cause she’s going to have the money she needs to run the campaign that it would take to win.
“Doesn’t mean she will win,” Lowe continued, “and I think Democrats have a darn good chance, but I don’t think it’s going to be because we somehow catch her flat-footed on resources.”
Since Ernst launched her reelection campaign in June, the senator has drawn multiple national headlines, oftentimes not in a positive light. From her comments on Social Security reform to alleged campaign finance violations, Democrats have plenty of fodder to tell voters why she should not win a second term.
To kick off 2020, Morning Consult’s January Senator Approval Rankings showed Ernst was the nation’s third most unpopular senator with only a 37% approval rating among Iowa voters.
“I unintentionally stumbled across her [Make ‘Em Squeal] ad just two or three days ago,” Lowe said. “It’s easy to remember the top-line message of that, which is essentially, I’m an outsider. But the ad was all about spending and deficits and getting the budget under control and sort of changing up Washington.
“We had a trillion dollar deficit last year. The exact opposite of her bluster,” he pointed out. “If she wants to keep standing up next to Mitch McConnell and talking into microphones, God bless her, that’s one of the best things we have going for us.”
This article was updated on 2/7/20 to include a statement from the Graham campaign about failing to file its Q4 fundraising report on time.
By Elizabeth Meyer