Ernst Struggles in Iowa as Republicans Battle to Hold Senate Amid Trump’s Woes

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — The Toby Keith music blared from loudspeakers as Senator Joni Ernst, carrying an power drink, labored a crowd of bikers in this city close to the Nebraska border, shaking fingers and giving out hugs.

Human-size Trump indicators stood in the Harley-Davidson retailer parking zone beneath a shiny, nearly cyan blue sky, however there was a word of gloom in the voices of some supporters of Ms. Ernst, a Republican. One quantity was on their minds: $100 million.

That’s how a lot allies of her Democratic rival, the businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, are pumping into the most costly Senate race Iowa has ever seen. Attack advertisements bombarding the airwaves — throughout school soccer video games and conservative discuss radio exhibits — paint the senator as a villain intent on stripping away Social Security and medical advantages for residents.

Six years after storming into workplace as maybe the highest-profile member of a vaunted class that took again Republican management of the Senate, Ms. Ernst, 50, finds herself in a troublesome re-election race that’s emblematic of her party’s battle to maintain the Senate majority with a weakened President Trump on the prime of the ticket.

Ms. Ernst, who has tightly embraced the president even as his standing has fallen, has trailed Ms. Greenfield in each ballot for the previous month, and in a current New York Times-Siena ballot, as many Iowans had a damaging view of her as those that had a constructive one. The survey underscored a bitter actuality for the primary lady to characterize Iowa in Congress: Mr. Trump’s troubles, notably with feminine voters, are doing actual harm to Republicans down the poll.

The social gathering holds a 53-to-47 benefit in the Senate, however as many as eight of its incumbents are in jeopardy of shedding in hotly contested races. That contains different stars of the category of 2014 as soon as believed to be a part of a promising new era of Republicans, together with Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Steve Daines of Montana, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and David Perdue of Georgia.

Ms. Ernst is extensively seen as a bellwether candidate, who will rise or fall together with her social gathering, and with Mr. Trump. Almost nobody believes Republicans can maintain onto management of the Senate if Ms. Ernst loses.

The president received Iowa by greater than 9 proportion factors in 2016, however he now trails or is statistically tied in state polls with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee.

While Ms. Ernst has sometimes parted methods from the president — she opposed Mr. Trump’s tariffs, for example, and supported eradicating the names of Confederate army leaders from army bases — she has extra typically embraced him.

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At the Harley-Davidson occasion in Sioux City, Ms. Ernst — who gave a speech on the Republican National Convention this yr and was as soon as thought of a possible operating mate for Mr. Trump — urged her supporters to draw a “pink line in the sand” towards encroaching liberalism by backing the president, echoing his marketing campaign message.

Later, talking to reporters, Ms. Ernst stated she didn’t imagine Mr. Trump’s declining recognition in Iowa would harm her, and argued he might nonetheless win over the suburban girls who’ve been turning towards him. But she hastened to add that she was “operating my very own campaign” and even recommended quite a lot of Iowans may cross social gathering traces to vote for each Mr. Biden and her.

“There could also be points the place folks will disagree with the president, however they’ll be supportive of me,” Ms. Ernst stated. “So it’s actually up to these Iowans to exit and make that call, however I hope they do acknowledge that Iowa is the place I used to be born and raised and Iowans are the people who I care about.”

Karen M. Kedrowski, a political-science professor at Iowa State University and the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, stated in some components of the state, Mr. Trump had grown “poisonous,” which might have an effect on Republicans who had not distanced themselves sufficient from him.

“Their fates are tied collectively,” Ms. Kedrowski stated of Ms. Ernst and Mr. Trump. “There’s such dissatisfaction with the Trump administration, it’s spilling over to hurt Republicans down-ballot.”

Ms. Ernst entered the Senate on the power of a buzzworthy “Make ‘Em Squeal” advert, pledging to lower wasteful spending simply as she had castrated pigs on her household farm. She quickly grew to become the one lady on Senator Mitch McConnell’s management group, and spoke out powerfully about surviving rape and home abuse.

But for Ms. Ernst, Ms. Greenfield presents a a lot steeper problem than did Bruce Braley, a gaffe-prone former congressman whom she simply defeated by greater than eight proportion factors six years in the past.

With a biography that resonates with Iowans, Ms. Greenfield, who oversaw a industrial actual property firm, has proved a disciplined messenger, hammering Ms. Ernst on pocketbook points like well being care, whereas stressing her personal background as a army mom and a “scrappy farm kid” who grew up in close by southern Minnesota.

She wears flannel shirts in her tv advertisements. In entrance of her Des Moines dwelling sit logs of firewood Ms. Greenfield says she chops herself. “I grew up fairly dang scrappy, I bought to let you know,” she likes to say.

Her farm roots have been on show throughout a televised debate Thursday evening when she accurately answered a query in regards to the value of corn in the state, whereas Ms. Ernst was stumped by a follow-up in regards to the value of soybeans.

“You grew up on a farm,” Ron Steele, a Waterloo information anchor who was a moderator of the talk, instructed Ms. Ernst. “You ought to know this.”

While Ms. Ernst was driving her bike throughout the state final weekend, Ms. Greenfield was on the Smith household farm in Buffalo Center close to Iowa’s northern border, stepping by contemporary pig manure and swatting bugs away from her neck as she talked about well being care.

“This is whole bias, however she’s a farm woman,” stated Jody Smith, 65, a farmer, explaining why she determined to assist Ms. Greenfield. “I do know that she has realized to work laborious. She can get up to anybody in Washington.”

Ms. Greenfield has run a cautious race, presenting herself as a centrist. She doesn’t denigrate Mr. Trump’s supporters and criticizes the Democratic Party for not focusing sufficient on group faculties.

She additionally has her personal compelling story of overcoming private tragedy. Her first husband died in a office accident when she was 24 and pregnant with their second youngster. The household survived on Social Security funds.

“Becoming a younger widow modified my life,” she stated. “I didn’t have any manner to pay the payments.”

With a unified Democratic message coming from social gathering leaders in Washington, Ms. Greenfield has stayed targeted on the difficulty of well being care, hitting Ms. Ernst repeatedly on her votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and her embrace of a false declare stemming from a conspiracy idea that the coronavirus dying toll was being inflated.

Political motion committees linked to Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority chief, have pumped tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars} into the race, taking goal at Ms. Ernst.

“Senator Ernst can’t be trusted on well being care,” Ms. Greenfield says, calling it the highest situation in the race.

Ms. Ernst has scrambled to reply. When Mr. Schumer compelled a current vote to bar the Trump administration from arguing to overturn the well being care legislation, Ms. Ernst broke together with her social gathering to vote with the Democrats. And she apologized repeatedly for her remark questioning the coronavirus dying toll.

“I’m so sorry that my phrases might have offended you,” Ms. Ernst stated throughout a current debate, addressing well being care employees. “You are super employees. You are important employees.”

In an try to salvage the seat, Republicans’ Senate marketing campaign arm has begun operating its personal assault advertisements towards Ms. Greenfield’s enterprise report, accusing her of “shoddy workmanship” and “breach of contract” — prices she disputes.

Ms. Ernst has additionally emphasised Ms. Greenfield’s failed foray into politics in 2018, when she briefly ran for Congress however ended her bid after her former marketing campaign supervisor admitted to forging signatures on petition paperwork.

Some Iowans stated they have been turned off by the flood of damaging advertisements towards Ms. Ernst.

“The issues which can be being marketed towards her, it makes me need to slap them,” stated Denny Gergen, 69, a grain and soybean farmer from northwest Iowa and one of many bikers who turned out to assist Ms. Ernst. “Yeah, I do know, hey, it’s politics however that is simply getting soiled.”

Ms. Ernst noticed hope in Mr. Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, arguing that the affirmation struggle would energize conservatives and drive them to the polls to assist her. She returned to Washington from the marketing campaign path to take part in the hearings, the place she emphasised Judge Barrett’s standing as a robust conservative lady.

But Ms. Ernst additionally tried to strike a average tone when discussing the implications of elevating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, declaring that she had as soon as upheld a protest buffer zone round abortion clinics.

“I feel the chance of Roe v. Wade being overturned may be very minimal,” Ms. Ernst stated, referring the landmark resolution that established federal abortion rights. “I don’t see that occuring.”

In Iowa on her bike tour, Ms. Ernst issued a message that echoed that of Mr. Trump, as she warned voters of a grim future ought to Ms. Greenfield defeat her and Democrats take management of the Senate. A Democratic victory, she stated throughout a cease in Des Moines, would imply a takeover of the United States by “excessive liberal pursuits,” “excessive environmentalists” and “excessive abortionists.”

“All of these issues lead us on an unsightly path in direction of socialism,” Ms. Ernst stated.

Then she instructed the bikers hanging on her each phrase to prepare to journey. “We’re going to present the state of Iowa that we nonetheless stand behind President Trump,” she stated. “We stand and are going to maintain this pink line in the United States Senate.”

With that, Ms. Ernst pulled her hair again right into a ponytail, hopped on her Harley, revved the engine and took off, main a small military of bikers east away from town, American flags flying from the again of their bikes, many adorned in daring letters: “T-R-U-M-P.”

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