The latest sign of the turning tide in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race came Thursday when the Cook Political Report dubbed the contest a toss-up, tugging the seat further from first-term Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.
The nonpartisan election analyzer began the summer with Iowa in its Lean Republican category, a shift from Likely Republican that came in March in light of “softening” poll numbers for Ernst.
“Now they’re in a very perilous position,” wrote Jessica Taylor, of Ernst’s declining poll numbers, “and this race could become the tipping point of control in the Senate.”
It’s not that the parties didn’t expect the race for Ernst’s seat to be competitive, given that a first-term politician is more likely to be unseated than a septuagenarian fixture in Congress. But politics forecasters did not have the seat on its list of prime pickup opportunities until Ernst’s approval rating began trending downward, along with President Donald Trump’s.
The Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in June showed Ernst’s approval rating at 49%, down from a high of 57% in February 2019.
“Republicans are hoping to dent Greenfield’s business record, but her farm background has her more competitive in many of the Trump/Obama counties along the Mississippi River that [Hillary] Clinton struggled with in 2016, and so did Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell in his 2018 loss,” Taylor wrote.
“With three competitive congressional races, too, including two Democrats flipped in the midterms, it’s an engaged electorate across the board, tightening at the presidential level as well.”
Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama faces a challenging race and may well not get reelected, meaning Democrats need to win the White House and flip four seats in order to recover control of the Senate.
“Make no mistake: Theresa Greenfield has put Iowa in play with her strong grassroots support, and the momentum is on her side,” said Greenfield spokesperson Izzi Levy.
Every public poll since Greenfield earned the Democratic nomination in June has shown her leading Ernst, and she out-raised the incumbent by about $2 million during the latest fundraising period.
The Des Moines Register recently detailed how outside spending is impacting the race as Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate, as well as issue-aligned PACs, determine where to spend their resources during the general election. The Register’s analysis shows outside groups have reserved at least $55 million to get their respective candidates on TV in front of voters.
As part of its effort to turn out young people to vote in November, NextGen has committed $3.5 million in Iowa to engage with them on issues they care about and register them to vote. NextGen Iowa endorsed Greenfield this week and plans to hold a virtual town hall next month to discuss the Senate race, current events “and the stakes of the 2020 election.”
“Young Iowans want a fair economy that works for them, an end to racial and LGBTQ+ discrimination, and leaders who will respond to — rather than exacerbate — the climate crisis,” Brit Bender, NextGen Iowa state director, said in a statement. “Theresa hears us, and has the grit to turn commitments into action once elected.”
Both campaigns have placed ads on social media, digital platforms and network TV. National groups also are getting their two-cents in.
We’re out with another new digital ad today!
Growing up in Iowa made me who I am today. Hard Work. Faith. Service. These are the values I learned growing up in Iowa and what drive my fight for Iowa every day. pic.twitter.com/Zq3aDEUXZl
— Joni Ernst (@joniernst) July 14, 2020
Over the last few days Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of Senate Majority PAC, spent $22,056 on Facebook ads in Iowa highlighting Ernst’s vote against paid sick leave. End Citizens United spent more than $7,000 running ads about Ernst’s ‘dark money’ troubles. And One Nation, a political nonprofit linked to Republican Karl Rove, is praising her bill to take federal funding away from cities that allow so-called “autonomous zones.”
Today, Senate Majority PAC is out with a new TV ad about the $14,500 fine Ernst’s 2014 campaign paid for campaign finance violations, the largest FEC fine ever levied against an Iowa politician.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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