Iowa Starting Line By Elizabeth Meyer August 30, 2020

A Democratic advocacy group founded by former Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana is zeroing in on Sen. Joni Ernst’s first reelection race in an effort to engage rural Iowans to vote against the incumbent Republican. A new social media analysis from One Country Fund shows an opening with rural Iowans is developing.

Prepared by Impact Social, the report collected publicly available online data, geo-located to rural populations in Iowa, between July 16 and Aug. 6. Of the 11,000 posts from 2,000 unique authors, the report deemed 52% of posts about Ernst to be negative.

“There is a common thread which runs through the majority of this discussion: Sen. Joni Ernst stands with President Trump and not with Iowans,” the report states. “She is more interested in herself and politics than doing what is right for the people.”

Fifteen percent of posts lamented Ernst is “too close to Trump,” while 11% disagreed with her stance on the economy, jobs and the trade war. Ernst’s negative comments late in July about Theresa Greenfield’s dog Ringo drove 10% of Iowans’ negative posts. Corruption comprised 8%; health care, 8%; COVID-19, 8%; “Doesn’t stand for Iowa,” 7%; and Russian bounties on American troops, 7%.

One Country Fund and its Democratic organizers believe Ernst’s affinity for President Trump could lead to her undoing, given only 42% of Americans support the job he has done as president. Despite carrying Iowa by 9 points in 2016, a June Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed Trump leading Joe Biden by only 1 point. Ernst in that poll trailed Greenfield, her Democratic opponent, by 3 points.

“If you have her voting record, which is 100% with Trump, you may as well ride that behavior all the way through the election,” Heitkamp told Starting Line. “She’s counting on the president on being as popular as he was in ’16. If he can amp out his turnout, that’s good for her.”

Ernst is the only senator running for reelection in a toss-up race who spoke this past week during the Republican National Convention.

“Ernst’s support of the president has angered many Iowans who feel her reluctance to criticize him makes her complicit in his ‘failures,’ i.e. COVID-19, the trade war, racism, etc.,” the report states. “They call her a fool for trashing her reputation for Trump and predict she will pay the price come November.”

Despite the trade war with China and oil refinery exemptions that have greatly harmed the ethanol industry, Ernst’s support for Trump is “full-throated,” Heitkamp said.

“Rural attitudes about President Trump and rural attitudes about Joni Ernst are pretty parallel,” Heitkamp said. “However, there might be opportunities to encourage split-ticket voting in rural Iowa. We’re really trying to encourage people to look at records, look at who’s really been fighting for them. Make sure people have the full story of what that looks like.”

Ernst’s support for EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the man behind the small refinery exemptions that have dramatically reduced the amount of ethanol blended into the nation’s fuel supply, has been a key talking point for Greenfield as she tries to convey to voters how Ernst has supported policies and people harmful to Iowa’s economy.

Though Greenfield now lives in Des Moines, she was raised on a farm in Minnesota, just across the border with Iowa. It’s a point in her background she often uses to show she understands the needs of small towns and rural communities.

Heitkamp suggested Greenfield remind rural Iowans of this connection when trying to win their votes.

“We know you. I am you,” Heitkamp said. “We may not agree on everything, but we do understand the challenges of our communities. It’s not a phony connection. I see you. I know who you are.”

Earlier this month, the Des Moines Register reported One Country Fund will spend $1 million in the state on TV and radio ads targeting Ernst.

Posted on August 30, 2020.