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Ernst Struggles in Iowa as Republicans Battle to Maintain 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 on this city close to the Nebraska border, shaking palms and giving out hugs.

Human-size Trump indicators stood within the Harley-Davidson retailer car parking zone beneath a brilliant, nearly cyan blue sky, however there was a notice of gloom within 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 costliest Senate race Iowa has ever seen. Assault adverts bombarding the airwaves — throughout school soccer video games and conservative speak radio exhibits — paint the senator as a villain intent on stripping away Social Safety 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 tricky re-election race that’s emblematic of her get together’s battle to maintain the Senate majority with a weakened President Trump on the high of the ticket.

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

The get together holds a 53-to-47 benefit within the Senate, however as many as eight of its incumbents are in jeopardy of shedding in hotly contested races. That features 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 broadly seen as a bellwether candidate, who will rise or fall along with her get together, and with Mr. Trump. Virtually 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.

Whereas Ms. Ernst has sometimes parted methods from the president — she opposed Mr. Trump’s tariffs, as an illustration, and supported eradicating the names of Accomplice army leaders from army bases — she has extra typically embraced him.

Sustain with Election 2020

On the Harley-Davidson occasion in Sioux Metropolis, Ms. Ernst — who gave a speech on the Republican Nationwide Conference this 12 months and was as soon as thought-about a possible operating mate for Mr. Trump — urged her supporters to attract a “pink line within the sand” towards encroaching liberalism by backing the president, echoing his marketing campaign message.

Later, talking to reporters, Ms. Ernst mentioned she didn’t imagine Mr. Trump’s declining recognition in Iowa would damage her, and argued he might nonetheless win over the suburban ladies who’ve been turning towards him. However she hastened so as to add that she was “operating my very own marketing campaign” and even recommended quite a few Iowans would possibly cross get together 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 mentioned. “So it’s actually as much as 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 College and the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Middle for Girls and Politics, mentioned 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 mentioned 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 chop wasteful spending simply as she had castrated pigs on her household farm. She quickly turned the one lady on Senator Mitch McConnell’s management workforce, and spoke out powerfully about surviving rape and home abuse.

However 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 8 proportion factors six years in the past.

With a biography that resonates with Iowans, Ms. Greenfield 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 child” who grew up in close by southern Minnesota.

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

Her farm roots had been on show throughout a televised debate Thursday evening when she accurately answered a query concerning the worth of corn within the state, whereas Ms. Ernst was stumped by a follow-up concerning the worth of soybeans.

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

Whereas Ms. Ernst was using her motorbike throughout the state final weekend, Ms. Greenfield was on the Smith household farm in Buffalo Middle close to Iowa’s northern border, stepping via recent pig manure and swatting bugs away from her neck as she talked about well being care.

“That is complete bias, however she’s a farm lady,” mentioned Jody Smith, 65, a farmer, explaining why she determined to help Ms. Greenfield. “I do know that she has realized to work exhausting. She will be able to stand as much as 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 Occasion for not focusing sufficient on group schools.

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 little one. The household survived on Social Safety funds.

“Turning into a younger widow modified my life,” she mentioned. “I didn’t have any solution to pay the payments.”

With a unified Democratic message coming from get together 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 Reasonably priced Care Act and her embrace of a false claim stemming from a conspiracy principle that the coronavirus loss of life toll was being inflated.

Political motion committees related to Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority chief, have pumped tens of tens of millions 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 problem within the race.

Ms. Ernst has scrambled to reply. When Mr. Schumer forced a recent vote to bar the Trump administration from arguing to overturn the well being care regulation, Ms. Ernst broke along with her get together to vote with the Democrats. And he or she apologized repeatedly for her remark questioning the coronavirus loss of life toll.

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

In an try and salvage the seat, Republicans’ Senate marketing campaign arm has begun operating its personal assault adverts towards Ms. Greenfield’s enterprise file, accusing her of “shoddy workmanship” and “breach of contract” — fees the true property developer 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 mentioned they had been turned off by the flood of damaging adverts towards Ms. Ernst.

“The issues which might be being marketed towards her, it makes me wish to slap them,” mentioned Denny Gergen, 69, a grain and soybean farmer from northwest Iowa and one of many bikers who turned out to help 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 Decide Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court docket, arguing that the affirmation combat would energize conservatives and drive them to the polls to help her. She returned to Washington from the marketing campaign path to take part within the hearings, the place she emphasised Decide Barrett’s standing as a robust conservative lady.

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

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

In Iowa on her motorbike 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 mentioned throughout a cease in Des Moines, would imply a takeover of the USA by “excessive liberal pursuits,” “excessive environmentalists” and “excessive abortionists.”

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

Then she instructed the bikers hanging on her each phrase to get able to experience. “We’re going to point out the state of Iowa that we nonetheless stand behind President Trump,” she mentioned. “We stand and are going to carry this pink line in the USA 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.”