The Cook Political Report today moved Sen. Joni Ernst’s reelection race from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican,” remarking on the “increasing competitiveness” of the contest amid a declining approval rating for the incumbent.
The report cites a March Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showing Ernst’s approval rating had dropped 10 points since February 2019, from 57% to 47%.
The fact that just 41% of Iowans right now said they would definitely vote for Ernst, the March 20 report states, “shows there is an opening for a Democrat, likely businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, who has the DSCC’s backing but has to survive a crowded June 2 primary first.”
Greenfield is one of five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.
The report classified races in Colorado and Arizona as “Republicans’ Biggest Worries”; Maine and North Carolina as “True Toss Ups”; and Montana, Georgia, Kansas and Iowa as “Democrats’ Next Tier Opportunities.”
According to Advertising Analytics, as of Wednesday, Democratic spending in Iowa dwarfed the other “Lean R” states, spending $4.1 million (including primary contests) compared to $270,540 in Georgia, the second highest. GOP spending in Georgia was highest at $8.8 million, with Iowa coming in second at $792,474.
The “biggest caveat” in Democrats’ ability to pick up a Senate seat in Iowa, reporter Jessica Taylor said, is President Donald Trump’s approval rating here. The Register’s March poll showed 50% of Iowans “approve of the job he’s doing as president” and would vote to reelect him over Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
However, “Recent private polling also shows Trump with a much closer margin with [Joe] Biden — and a tightening race for Ernst,” Taylor said. “Given the increasing competitiveness of the race, we are moving Iowa from Likely to Lean Republican.”
Democrats need a net gain of three seats to win the Senate majority if they also win the presidency, or a pickup of four seats if they don’t.
“Realistically, Democrats need to take at least four or five GOP-held seats, because by far the most vulnerable seat in the Senate up next year is the one held by Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama,” says Charlie Cook, of the Cook Political Report.
If Democrats lose their Alabama seat, the most likely path to a majority runs through flipping Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina. But states like Iowa should also heavily factor in as Democrats consider a variety of options to win back the chamber.
Today’s report gives Democrats “close to 50-50 odds” to win the Senate majority given Biden’s likely place on the Democratic ticket and the Trump Administration’s “slow reaction” to managing the COVID-19 outbreak.
Taylor said President Trump, “who is in many ways so uniquely unsuited to manage such a wide response from the government actors he distrusts — is not only risking his own reelection prospects but those of many Republican senators.”
By Elizabeth Meyer