New Spending Shows GOP Worried About Joni Ernst’s Race

Photo by Julie Fleming

By Pat Rynard

March 25, 2020

Iowa TV screens will be filled with plenty of ads for the U.S. Senate race this fall, according to a new report. Politico reported on Monday that the Senate Leadership Fund, the main Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC for Republican Senate races, has booked $67 million worth of TV ads for the post-Labor Day run, including a sizable investment in Iowa.

Early placement of TV spots are pretty common, used to lock in better prices early on, but Politico notes that this purchase is over twice the amount the PAC reserved in its initial buy in 2018.

Six states are a part of the investment, all of which have vulnerable Republican incumbents. But Iowa is interestingly the second-largest buy of the field. Senate Leadership Fund has reserved $12.6 for Iowa media markets to help boost Sen. Joni Ernst’s reelection race. That’s behind only North Carolina, where Sen. Thom Tillis is looking particularly at-risk with a 26% approval rating; the PAC has placed $21.8 million there.

The large buy for Iowa is also noteworthy considering this is a smaller state with cheaper media markets compared to many others on the list.

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Additional states the PAC has targeted in this round are Arizona (Martha McSally), Colorado (Cory Gardner), Kentucky (Mitch McConnell) and Maine (Susan Collins). Nothing was reserved in Alabama or Michigan, Republicans’ two offensive targets this cycle.

The large sum of money for Iowa suggests that McConnell and national Republicans are very worried about Ernst’s chances in her first reelection race. Initial polling isn’t great for Ernst, whose approval ratings dropped ten points over the past year, but it’s also not terrible. The Cook Political report recently moved the Senate race to more competitive territory, at “Lean Republican.”

In the bigger picture for control of the Senate, the current assumption is that Democrats may lose their Alabama seat, meaning they’d need to win four others to oust McConnell as majority leader. The Cook Report rates four of the states on this ad buy list — Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina — as “toss-up.” Ernst’s is the only one of the “Lean Republican” states that the PAC is investing so much early money into. McConnell’s is rated as “Likely Republican.” The PAC isn’t placing ads yet in places like Georgia, Montana or Kansas, three other places with “Lean Republican” races.

It’s unlikely that the battle for the Senate plays out in just those four Republican seats most likely to flip, so Ernst’s inclusion by top national Republicans in this buy points to Iowa being a major piece of the 2020 Senate map. The Senate race in Ernst’s 2014 campaign was incredibly expensive, with over $92 million spent on both sides between candidates and outside groups.

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The main Democratic-aligned Senate super PAC has already been airing TV ads in Iowa to help Theresa Greenfield, the preferred choice in the primary by many national Democratic and allied organizations. A new spot was rolled out yesterday, another one that looks to introduce Greenfield’s biography to Iowa voters ahead of the June 2 primary.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 3/25/20

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.



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