Sen. Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield will square off today in the first debate between the two candidates for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat.
To watch, tune in to “Iowa Press” at 7 p.m. on Iowa PBS or stream the hourlong program live on iowapbs.org.
Coming into tonight’s debate, the first of three between the two women, the pressure is on for Ernst, who faces a re-election contest more competitive than election watchers initially forecast.
Trailing in the September Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, Ernst has faced a string of negative news coverage lately, particularly about her support for confirming a new Supreme Court justice this year and her embrace of a COVID-19 conspiracy theory that questions the validity of the U.S. death toll.
If Ernst’s 2014 debate performances are any indication of how she will fare tonight, the senator is unlikely to be flustered by reporters’ questions or Greenfield’s rebukes. She will come prepared with a list of talking points related to accomplishments of the Republican-led Senate and Trump Administration, as well as critiques of Greenfield.
Ernst’s weaknesses as a candidate will show themselves if and when she tries to categorize Greenfield as a radical, left-wing socialist, which she is not. That has been the strategy for Republicans up and down the ticket this year — instill a fear of socialism in voters, regardless of the policy positions their opponents actually hold.
Against Bruce Braley, Ernst’s opponent in 2014, she largely avoided dramatic mischaracterizations of him during debates. She criticized Braley for supporting the policies of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, but cultural scare tactics were less prevalent in her talking points then than they are now.
Ahead of tonight’s debate, Starting Line hit the archives to watch past debates between Ernst and her fellow Republicans and Ernst versus Braley, to give voters a sense of her candidacy then and how it squares with her reelection campaign six years later.
Here’s a look back a some of Ernst’s noteworthy debate moments of her first U.S. Senate campaign.
On April 24, 2014, Ernst said during a Republican primary debate she supported a limit of two six-year terms for U.S. senators.
Radio Iowa journalist O. Kay Henderson posed this question to the five candidates: “Would you limit the number of terms that you serve in the U.S. Senate should you be elected by the people of Iowa?”
Ernst replied: “12 years, I also have publicly stated that, and I would like to see an amendment [to the Constitution].
If Ernst’s pledge holds true and she wins reelection in November, her new term, beginning in 2021, would be her last.
When asked during a Des Moines Register/KCCI debate about her stance on climate change and what actions she supported to solve it, Ernst said she believes “our climate is changing, but again, I’m not sure what the impact of man is upon that climate change.”
“I don’t know the science behind climate change,” she said during the September 2014 debate against Braley. “I can’t say one way or another what is the direct impact, whether its man-made or not. I’ve heard arguments from both sides, but I do believe in protecting our environment, but without the job-killing regulations that are coming out of the EPA.”
Ernst’s campaign website does not mention climate change and last year, in the midst of devastating flooding in Iowa, Ernst attributed the heaving spring rains and record floods to “changing weather patterns” and said “climate has been changing since the dawn of time.”
Ernst often tries to link Greenfield with the Green New Deal — a proposal she has described as “exorbitant in costs and would kill our economy” — even though Greenfield has said she does not support it.
The Environmental Protection Agency and its controversial leaders in the Trump Administration is a hot top this year in the Ernst-Greenfield race primarily because of the agency’s impact on Iowa’s ethanol industry.
Ernst recently praised EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for expanding access to E15 and his decision not to approve Renewable Fuel Standard gap-year waivers requested by oil companies, despite granting dozens of small refinery exemptions throughout his tenure.
If it was up to Ernst, the EPA would not exist at all.
“When we talk about the rules and regulations that are burdening business owners, whether it’s in ag or whether it’s in industry here in the state of Iowa, let’s shut down the federal EPA and focus on those issues here in state where the state knows best how to protect the resources,” Ernst said six years ago on “Iowa Press.”
During that primary debate Ernst also advocated for scrapping the Internal Revenue Service and the current tax code — “let’s find something that’s fairer, flatter and simpler” — and “closing the doors to the Department of Education.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
Iowa Starting Line is an independently owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.