A prominent political action committee of Republicans devoted to defeating President Donald Trump and his “enablers” said they’re looking with renewed focus at Sen. Joni Ernst’s race with 31 days until the election.
The Lincoln Project, founded and run by right-leaning political strategists and figures who aim to hold “Trump and Trumpism accountable at the ballot box,” has deemed Ernst’s Senate seat as one of the nation’s most vulnerable.
Set to advertise next week in Iowa at a “pretty substantial rate,” one of the PAC’s co-founders said his concern with the first-term senator up for reelection is her blind support for the President in the face of COVID-19 and his inability to denounce white supremacists, as well as Ernst’s ACA votes.
“Ernst is a perfect example of Trumpism, which is in her silence and her deeds, she has been willing to put up with all the stuff that is fundamentally un-American, undemocratic, incompetent, wrong, amoral when it comes to Trump because she’s afraid of the mean tweet or the nickname,” said Lincoln Project co-Founder Reed Galen in an interview with Iowa Starting Line.
Despite the Lincoln Project’s enormous fundraising successes and their nod to the competitiveness of Ernst and her Democratic competitor Theresa Greenfield’s race, the PAC has yet to permeate Iowa’s airwaves for consistent periods of time.
In late May, the Lincoln Project targeted the Sioux City market with a 60-second reiteration of Ronald Regan’s “Morning in America” ad, instead called “Mourning in America” highlighting Trump’s economic failure in swing states like Iowa.
The PAC has also directly targeted Ernst in an ad called “Crickets,” featuring the Senator’s infamous “make them squeal” soundbite followed by over twenty seconds of the sound of crickets.
The ad ran in in the Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Quad Cities and Sioux City markets for just two days in June to underscore Ernst’s failure to speak or advocate for Iowans in the US Senate, hypocritical to her promise to constituents in 2015 that she’d bring heat to Washington.
But now, Galen said, the Lincoln Project is looking to spend more in Iowa during the last four to five weeks of the race.
“Our political team has our eye on Iowa to see what we can do because it looks like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota are in pretty good shape, and it looks like maybe Iowa’s coming our way,” he said. “It’s Iowa, it’s Alaska, Montana, Maine, Kansas, South Carolina, even Mississippi’s been added to the list. So we will be busy in the next 30-some days.”
Galen said one of the Lincoln Project’s primary concerns with Ernst is her silence when faced with the opportunity to take a stance on significant issues in order to stay in the President’s good graces.
“She was smiling like a Cheshire cat while she was helping let Trump off the hook during impeachment, but in the wake of COVID and George Floyd and all the stuff that Trump has said about the Proud Boys and all of that stuff, you can’t get a word out of her edge-wise,” he said.
The Lincoln Project co-founder noted her use of misinformation when she does speak out on the issues—like when Ernst said she was “so skeptical” of hospitals overcounting COVID-19 numbers, a widely circulated QAnon conspiracy theory.
“And then when she does speak, it’s to place doubt in whether or not hospitals are coding things as COVID so they could get more money as opposed to actually solving a problem,” he said. “She’s on the judiciary committee, so she’s going to be squaring off about what it means to the American people about things like the ACA and on election security. She hasn’t said anything about any of this stuff, so it’s one of those things that when she does talk, she says things that I think are antithetical to Iowa values.”
Ernst on Thursday was one of six Senate Republicans who voted with Democrats to bar the U.S. Department of Justice from supporting a lawsuit aimed at repealing the ACA. The motion was nine votes short of passing, but Ernst joined a number of vulnerable Republican senators up for reelection in supporting the bill.
“I don’t think anybody should be surprised,” Ernst told the Capital Dispatch. “I continue to say and demonstrate that I support people with pre-existing conditions.”
Her vote comes after Monday’s Senate debate, which featured heated moments against Greenfield about the very issue. Ernst has repeatedly voted to repeal the ACA—something Greenfield highlighted during the hourlong PBS debate.
“I’ve been very clear about my position,” said Greenfield on Monday. “I don’t support Medicare for all, but I do support strengthening and enhancing the Affordable Care Act and making sure that everyone has health care. And in addition to that, building in a public option, which creates competition and brings down those prices. Senator Joni Ernst did the exact opposite. She voted multiple times to end the Affordable Care Act, devastating health care for so many Iowans, who rely on coverage for preexisting conditions; about 1.3 million Iowans.”
Ernst has also recently tried to downplay the weight of her upcoming vote on Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, saying that it was very unlikely it would cause Roe v. Wade to be overturned.
A recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll showed Greenfield leading 45 percent to 42 percent among likely voters. With Greenfield’s lead still widening, Galen said he expects the same type of strategies from Ernst going forward.
“My guess is they will try and moderate enough stuff in her prepared remarks and during her questions so that can cut TV ads off of it and run them in the next couple of weeks,” he said of yesterday’s debate. “Think about how cynical that is. It’s not doing something for the right reason, its doing something for the wrong reason which is personal political salvation. None of this is a surprise, this is where these people are.”
The Lincoln Projects will target Iowa in the next couple of weeks with ads similar to what they’ve been putting out nationally—anti-Trump ads with a Republican bent.
“We’re not a progressive organization, because we’re not Democrats,” Galen said. “We typically speak to Republicans and Republican iconography—the flag, the military, those sorts of patriotic symbols. We also understand what it means to speak to Republicans and to display for them why it’s perfectly acceptable for them to be disappointed in someone who you thought was going to be a leader.”
And Galen expects Iowa to be up for a good fight.
“I think it’s a dogfight for Trump in Iowa,” he said. “If I were a betting man, if Wisconsin continues to move away from Trump like it is, I think that Iowa might very well follow suit. And you know, if he loses Iowa, he’s losing a whole bunch of places.”
by Isabella Murray
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