It’s Clear Who The Real Scrappy Farmer Is For Iowa Senate

By Pat Rynard

October 16, 2020

The veneer of Joni Ernst’s farm girl image got pulled back ever further at last night’s Iowa Senate debate, revealing the foundation of a D.C. politician who lost touch with her roots long ago.

In what may go down as the defining moment of this year’s high-profile Senate contest, Ernst awkwardly bungled a question about farm prices while her opponent Theresa Greenfield answered a similar query with ease and confidence. Pressed what the breakeven cost of soybeans is currently, Ernst first tried to divert to a completely different topic, pushed back on whether the question was on corn, got the answer wrong, tried to blame Greenfield for not answering, got told she did, then passed on an opportunity to try again.

“You grew up on a farm, you should know this,” moderator Ron Steele of KWWL prodded after Ernst spent nearly a minute talking about trade deals instead.

“I think you had asked about corn. And it depends on what the inputs are, but probably about $5.50,” Ernst nervously replied.

“Well, you’re a couple dollars off, because it’s $10.05, but we’ll move on to something else” Steele noted in response, meaning soybeans.

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“And I don’t think Ms. Greenfield answered either,” Ernst said.

“She actually did for the price of corn, we asked for the price of soybeans from you, Senator, do you want to take another crack at it?” Matt Breen of KTIV interjected.

“Uh, no thank you, you said the breakeven for corn was $10.50? I don’t think that’s correct,” Ernst said, adding that she wasn’t sure if she was hearing things correctly.

In Ernst’s defense, technical issues plagued the start of the debate, and there appeared to be audio issues for the candidates later on when this question was asked. Ernst appeared to be trying to answer the price or breakeven point for corn, but if that’s true, she got that wrong as well. A bushel of corn hasn’t sold for around $5 since 2013, a little over a year before Ernst went off to D.C., and the breakeven point has hovered around $4 or a little less recently.

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Compounding problems for Ernst was that Greenfield knocked her answer on the question out of the park just a minute earlier.

“Well, a bushel of corn is going for about $3.68 today, $3.69, and breakeven really just depends on the amount of debt someone has. I suspect there’s farmers that are breaking even at that price. However, if their yields are down 50%, that’s certainly not going to cover it for them,” Greenfield succinctly said when asked about corn.

The exchange wasn’t a simple “gotcha” question, as it drove right at one of the main narratives of this race: who is the authentic, scrappy farm girl? Both Ernst and Greenfield have run countless ads recounting each of their upbringings on their family farms — Ernst in Red Oak, Iowa; Greenfield in rural Minnesota near the Iowa border.

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It was obvious from last night’s debate that one of those candidates is still in touch with their rural roots and the current concerns of Iowa farmers: Greenfield. You could also see hints of the divide from the first debate, where Greenfield also brought up Iowa corn prices.

Ernst talks an awful lot about traveling around Iowa to rural counties, but her struggle with the question makes you wonder what she has the radio tuned to on her drives. Commodity prices are constantly discussed on Iowa radio stations, and one would think that the senator would discuss specific prices with farmers when she’s out talking with them around the state.

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Her campaign team seems obsessed internally with mocking Greenfield for growing up in Bricelyn, Minnesota, even though life five miles from the Iowa border isn’t markedly different from anyone living in Winnebago County, Iowa. If they were focused on more important things, like perhaps preparing a notecard of Iowa commodity prices for Ernst to look at before the debate, they’d be doing better in the election.

Ernst’s debate debacle will only further the view that she’s lost touch with Iowa after moving to D.C., more concerned with national Republican Party politics than the everyday concerns of her constituents. It’s the kind of thing that would lead her to vote for an anti-ethanol EPA nominee, just because he was the pick of the president of Ernst’s party.

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Even the reason why Ernst got put in this particularly awkward position was due to her party loyalty over all else. Had Ernst been in the studio, like was originally planned, maybe the flow of conversation would have gone smoother, and she wouldn’t have looked this bad even if she did get the price off by a dollar or two.

Instead, Ernst was remote from D.C., where she was participating in a Supreme Court confirmation hearing she previously said she wouldn’t support, and the faulty audio feed tripped her up even worse.

There’s a word for that: karma.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 10/16/20

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  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.



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