Joni Ernst is now in trouble. Trump is a huge part of her problem.

Source: By Art Cullen, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the background, speaks at a news conference in Washington last week.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the background, speaks at a news conference in Washington last week. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

One big reason Republicans are shoving a Supreme Court appointment through the Senate before the election is their rising fear of losing the upper chamber — and the White House — in November. Those fears are well-founded. Two weeks ago, one of the most respected polls in politics found Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) trailing Democrat Theresa Greenfield by three percentage points.

The Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll also found that all four of Iowa’s congressional races are dead heats — unusual in a state that went so bigly for Trump in 2016. The poll also found Joe Biden and Donald Trump deadlocked at 47 percent to 47 percent, a slight improvement for Biden in recent months.

Though it’s been months in the making, Iowa is now officially up for grabs. A natural disaster, impatience with bad farm economics, and a deep and abiding sense of anxiety about the country’s direction have made the state an unlikely battleground.

So far, $155 million has been spent in Iowa on the Senate race alone. The TV is filled with dark messages of political rot. Greenfield, the daughterof a crop-duster, has raised more money than Ernst. She is wearing well, attracting 10 percent of voters who supported Trump four years ago.

Not long ago, 60 percent of Iowans approved of Ernst’s performance. Now, the same percentage disapproves. They tell the Iowa Poll that Ernst has not done enough for Iowa — a criticism that felled past senators such as Dick Clark, John Culver and Roger Jepsen before her.

Trump is a huge part of Ernst’s problem. She stood by him when he started trade wars with our biggest ag export customers: China, Mexico and Canada. Then, Trump toyed with the ethanol industry for three years while prices plummeted. And the pandemic is out of control in Iowa while Congress dithers over aid. Among Ernst’s biggest shortcomings is that she has not done enough to help Cedar Rapids, the state’s second-largest city, which was clobbered by the 140 mph winds of an August derecho.

It’s a key purple city that can easily swing blue and offset conservative advantages in rural areas.

Then, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Ernst had no choice but to stand with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for a vote before January, lame duck or not. McConnell keeps the checkbook.

Again, that’s the problem. Our junior senator is in lockstep with Trump and McConnell on nearly every issue. Iowans don’t like that. They like mavericks, the kind that Chuck Grassley used to be. They also have a Midwestern sense of fair play that does not brook rushing a vote this important when McConnell said the exact opposite four years ago.

Ernst trails Greenfield among women by 20 points in the Iowa Poll; all those votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act left some bruises; rural hospitals are on the verge of closing, and urban hospitals are shutting down maternity wards to cut costs. Duly noted.

Then there’s the court vacancy. The Republicans think this vote will help them with the pro-life crowd. I am not sure I follow that logic. In Iowa, abortion is already factored into the calculus for Ernst. People who vote on that issue have been energized and organized since 1973. They’re the reason Trump is even in the equation in Iowa. That support is maxed out, I believe.

What makes it a race now is that Democrats see the hypocrisy of rushing to replace Ginsburg when President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, couldn’t even get a Senate hearing from McConnell. That 20-point spread among women could grow in favor of Greenfield if abortion rights are more broadly perceived as vanishing.

Others are scared to death of covid-19 and the state’s lame response. Or they really don’t like being called socialists for taking a $14 billion farm bailout because of Trump’s trade bluster. They share a sense of deep fear about the country that goes well beyond the high court.

Ernst should be scared as well. There will be no miracle vaccine by November, laid-off manufacturing workers from Waterloo to Davenport will not be called back, and farmers will nervously await the crop insurance adjuster’s visit after the harvest. None of it is good.

There could be an October surprise. It will have to be a doozy to unwrite this script.

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