At a time when Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst is locked in an unexpectedly close reelection race, she is missing out on a multi-million dollar assist from an organization that provided a significant boost in her first U.S. Senate campaign: the National Rifle Association.
During her 2014 race, the NRA spent $3.1 million to help elect Ernst, either through direct contributions to her campaign or in the form of independent expenditures, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. She is the NRA’s seventh-most highly funded candidate.
The NRA’s endorsement and financial support in Ernst’s 2014 race against Democrat Bruce Braley helped launch the little-known state senator to a nationally known candidate. This year, the NRA Political Victory Fund has yet to endorse her reelection campaign.
The Washington Free Beacon reported last week that the group plans to spend “tens of millions” in 2020, with a focus on Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Given the fundraising disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and its legal troubles, it is an open question whether the NRA will play a significant role in Iowa races this year.
A recent Open Secrets report notes that the NRA has spent less than $1 million in outside spending during 2020, far less than at this point in recent cycles.
“The NRA, for all their bravado, tough talk and ‘loyalty’ know, with a dwindling base of volunteers, revenue and supporters, they have to carefully spend on races they believe they can win,” said Brian Lemek, executive director of Brady PAC, “and as our new data supports, Iowa is no longer one of them.”
“We see their absence in this race,” Lemek said, “as demonstrating a loosening grip on Iowa and a clear message from Iowans that the NRA’s life endangering rhetoric and effort to dismantle our democracy, isn’t welcome in the state.”
New polling from Brady PAC shows Ernst and Democrat Theresa Greenfield locked in a two-point race, with Ernst leading 43% to 41%. (Brady PAC, the sister organization of Brady, the country’s oldest gun violence prevention advocacy group, endorsed Greenfield in May.) According to the July poll of 534 likely Iowa voters, 16% still are undecided. The margin of error is +/- 4.2.
In the presidential contest between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the race is tied at 45%.
The poll also asked Iowans’ opinions on gun laws, access to firearms and violence. Forty-seven percent of respondents said laws covering the sale of guns and firearms should be “more strict,” while 14% said “less strict” and 35% believe gun laws are fine in their current form. Asked whether they support a federal assault weapons ban on new military-style, semi-automatic guns, 53% were in favor, including 45% of gun owners.
During this election cycle, Ernst’s ties to the NRA were on the forefront of criticism surrounding the failure of Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. In the Senate, Ernst worked closely with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein to come to an agreement, but in the end, Ernst introduced her own bill, one that did not include closing the NRA-supported “boyfriend loophole,” and no legislation has passed.
Once a powerhouse in Republican politics, the nation’s most powerful gun rights lobby largely has been sidelined during the 2020 election cycle due in part to the New York attorney general’s scrutiny of its finances that began in earnest in April 2019.
As a tax-exempt organization, it is legally prohibited from using its funds for the purpose of advancing the personal interests of its leaders or members. But that is what Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief executive, has been accused of in court. Last week, the New York Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit alleging “years of runaway corruption and misspending” by the NRA and “demanded the dissolution” of the organization, according to the New York Times.
By Elizabeth Meyer
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