While her campaign runs TV ads promoting Joni Ernst’s willingness to work across the aisle, Ernst herself frames her race as an ideological, partisan battle when she’s around fellow Republicans.
At a Crawford County Republican event last week, the first-term senator provided no roadmap or policy ideas for the future, but instead spent 15 minutes railing against her Democratic opponent Theresa Greenfield, Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.
“To the right, we have economic prosperity, we have freedom, and we have opportunity,” Ernst said of the coming choice in the November election. “[Greenfield] wants to take that fork to the left … this is the roadway paved with radical environmentalist ideas. Like the Green New Deal. Ninety-three trillion dollars of spending, which would decimate our Iowa agricultural economy and eliminate thousands of manufacturing jobs across the state.”
While it is not unusual for politicians to speak differently at partisan party-building events than they would in less political settings, Ernst often takes this approach to the extreme.
In her debut memoir released this spring, Iowa’s junior senator laments the bickering between Democrats and Republicans that so often stalls important legislation in Congress. She decries how “both sides demonize their opponents and make them into caricatures of evil.”
“It can get exhausting,” Ernst says.”But I refuse to accept that it’s the only way to operate.”
Now that Ernst finds herself in a tough reelection fight, however, when given the opportunity to “demonize” her opponent, she embraces it head on.
“What we see are the Democrats trying to radically and fundamentally change who we are as a United States of America,” Ernst said at the Trump Tractor Parade and Picnic Rally in Crawford County, as she referred to “radical environmental ideas” and “extreme abortionists.”
Ernst provided no proposals on how to improve health care in the United States, saying only “there are better ways of doing it.”
“She’s out there supporting a government takeover of health care,” Ernst falsely claimed about Greenfield. “She would much rather see bureaucrats stand between you and your physician, blocking the treatments that your physician thinks is best for you. … We don’t need a single-payer plan in the United States of America.” (Greenfield supports strengthening the Affordable Care Act and creating a public option for Americans to buy into, but not a single-payer system.)
Ernst used her time on stage to accuse Greenfield of “hiding in the basement” during the coronavirus pandemic — a line Republicans often hurl at Biden — despite the numerous times she has safely met with Iowans in person and the virtual events she holds on a weekly basis.
“My opponent, Theresa Greenfield — that’s her name. It’s not Litchfield or Greenwood. I’ve had other folks say, ‘I don’t like that Litchfield woman.’ Good. Keep thinking that way,” Ernst said.
Of Schumer and Senate Democrats, Ernst criticized the idea of expanding the Supreme Court and granting statehood to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
“That would further water down Iowans’ voices in the U.S. Senate. We don’t need that,” Ernst said of statehood for millions of Americans.
Then, she launched into a favorite line of attack against all Democrats, no matter their political proposals or personal beliefs — socialism.
“Now, we’ve talked a little bit about socialism as well. Again, Biden has embraced Bernie Sanders’ ideas in his run for president,” Ernst said. “Bernie Sanders is a socialist, folks. That’s where the Democratic Party is headed, radical ideas.”
Ernst also took another opportunity to misrepresent Greenfield’s interview where she said, “We do need to address systemic racism, not only in our policing, but our housing policies and systems, in education, in health care, in financing, in lending.”
“Our opponent said, just about a week ago, that law enforcement officials, right here in the state of Iowa, are systemically racist,” Ernst said. “Systemically racist, which means that every single sheriff’s deputy, sheriff, every police officer, every trooper out there, she’s calling them racist. I don’t believe it, do you?”
At the Crawford County picnic, Ernst used the tight contest as a motivator for Republicans.
“At the end of the day, this is going to be tough and it’s going to be tight,” Ernst said. “I guarantee you I am a fighter. I am a fighter. Theresa Greenfield, she’s going to sling a lot of mud. She’s going to throw a lot of punches. I’m not going to be her punching bag, folks, not at all.
“I tell you what, come Nov. 3 at 9 p.m., the polls are going to close. … I may be a little bloodied. I may be bruised — and I’ll probably have a few broken ribs from this campaign,” Ernst said. “But folks, I’m going to guarantee you I am going to crawl across the finish line first. We are going to keep this United States Senate seat and, as you can attest from all of these tractors here today, we are going to reelect President Trump.”
By Elizabeth Meyer, with reporting from Paige Godden
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