Iowa's U.S. Senate Race Defined

Rep. Bruce Braley

Rep. Bruce Braley

The U.S. Senate race is at the top of the 2014 Midterm election ticket with Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo), who ran unopposed in yesterday’s primary election, facing off with State Senator Joni Ernst (R-Red Oak) who decisively cleared a field of four other candidates with 56.1 percent of the Republican vote.

The thrill seems to be gone for Republicans who turned out 197,194 votes for Chuck Grassley in the TEA Party Rebellion of 2010, with the race that selected Ernst garnering only 158,031. As Blog for Iowa suggested Monday, the race now turns to who will bank the most votes from moderate Iowans. Iowa active voter registrations are currently at 1,916,783, with 601,878 Democrats, 605,454 Republicans, and 705,198 No Party.

Ernst was endorsed by a number of familiar Republican names during the primary, including Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Herman Cain, and others. One theme of the race for Braley looks to be “Back to the Future,” and his campaign web site posted this graphic:

Ernst Msg on Braley WebsiteAs failed Republican primary candidate Mark Jacobs said in his radio ads, what’s needed to beat Bruce Braley is steak, not Ernst’s sizzle, the implication being that she does not have it.

Before the primary, the Braley campaign opined on what an Ernst nomination would mean for their campaign.

Primary Day Preview: What Joni Ernst’s Likely Nomination Means for the US Senate Race

By Sarah Benzing, Campaign Manager

As Primary Election Day dawns in Iowa, it’s clear that Sen. Joni Ernst has a very clever ad team and far-right views that will likely pass the test of the Republican primary electorate. With her probable primary victory tonight, she will face a new test with mainstream Iowa voters and a hot spotlight shining past the ads into her record and substance.


Senator Ernst will likely emerge from the primary having defeated two underfunded conservatives and one well-funded moderate Republican who didn’t so much campaign as implode.While Sen. Ernst courted voters with motorcycles, pistols, and barnyard metaphors intended to position her as a different kind of politician, just beneath the surface a typical politician was at work.  She auditioned for funding from the Koch brothers’ special interest network and a Wall Street billionaire supporter helped do the dirty work with attack ads against Mark Jacobs. Reports indicate that out-of-state special interests pumped over $700,000 into Iowa on her behalf in the last two weeks alone.Yet despite the slick ads, observers still describe Sen. Ernst as a second tier Senate candidate.  She has no proven ability to raise money or mount a top-level campaign and, in the words of conservative radio host Steve Deace, “hasn’t been tested enough for a general election… hasn’t faced enough scrutiny” and is “unprepared for the onslaught to come.”


Sen. Joni Ernst has made her job in the general election harder by manufacturing an image she cannot live up to.

Voters looking for the persona featured in her ads will surely be disappointed to learn that Senator Ernst missed more than 40 percent of all floor votes in the Iowa Senate this year; campaigning seems to have gotten in the way.  While Ernst skated by this liability in the primary thanks to Jacobs’ clumsy attempts to highlight it, she has failed to adequately deal with this problem for the general electorate.

In addition, Sen. Ernst has gone way out on a limb on budget matters.  Anyone who declares with such colorful zeal that she knows how to “cut pork” and make the “big spenders… squeal” had better be able to back up their words with substance.

But you won’t find the same Joni Ernst in the Iowa Senate record.  The cold reality is that in the state Senate, Ernst never once sponsored legislation to cut pork. She never wrote a single measure to cut spending.


From Sen. Ernst’s support for Social Security privatization to her repeated calls to repeal the federal minimum wage, from supporting the federal government shutdown to standing against a woman’s right to choose even in life-threatening circumstances, her out-of-step views will hurt Iowa seniors, block a pay raise for 300,000 Iowa workers, and give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans.

Sen. Ernst is going to have a hard time explaining why she’s put her rigid ideology before the interests of working Iowans. But you don’t have to take our word for it: “concerned murmurs” have been “rippling through Iowa’s Republican circles, worried that the ways US Senate primary candidates are appealing to the base now could haunt the party come November.”

Former Terry Branstad chief of staff and 2002 Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Gross worried aloud that Sen. Ernst’s in-your-face approach is “a problem for her, if she wins [the primary], in the fall with suburban women.” Former GOP Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants said “the edginess” of Sen. Ernst’s message “may not make that great of a first impression among the independents needed to win in the fall.” Politico noted that “several positions she espoused…could backfire in a purple state like Iowa.”

Indeed, “in the age of YouTube and social media, there is no campaign Etch-a-Sketch. If a candidate can’t talk for 60 seconds in a primary debate about working across party lines, voters should not expect him or her to shake off that tone when June 4 dawns.”


There is a clear choice in this election, and in the coming weeks, our campaign will begin an aggressive effort to inform Iowans of these differences.

On one hand, there’s Bruce Braley, who has made it his life’s work to stand up for working Iowans because that’s where he comes from, building bridges to cross the party divide and deliver results for Iowans.

On the other hand, there’s Joni Ernst, a politician who sides with the obstructionists in the Republican Party in Congress, who sympathizes with the “no-compromise” Republicans even when it puts her at odds with Iowans, and who is ever-mindful of the out-of-state billionaires and special interests who are funding her campaign and who have an agenda all their own and at odds with Iowa.

Make no mistake about it.  Sen. Ernst’s powerful backers will pull out all the stops. But on Election Day, Iowans will choose Bruce Braley because we need a champion for working families in the Senate. There are more than enough right-wing obstructionists in Washington already.


Missed Votes

In 2014, Ernst Missed 40% Of Votes In The Iowa State Senate. During the 2014 general session of the Iowa State Senate, Sen. Joni Ernst missed 115 of 286 roll call votes. [Iowa Senate Journal, 2014]

April 2014 Vote Count Found Ernst Missed 117 Of 197 Votes. According to an April 2014 from The Cedar Rapids Gazette, “Ernst has been asked to explain the missed votes following a March 5 article by The Gazette found she’d taken excused absences on 71 of 95 votes tallied in the chamber sinceFeb. 24. According to the most recent review by The Gazette, Ernst missed 117 of 197 votes, or 59 percent of the votes, in the Iowa Senate this session before the WHO-TV interview posted on April 7. This includes four days where some votes were missed, and nine days when all votes were missed. This week Ernst has voted in 23 of 24 roll calls.” [The Gazette, 4/14/14]

Former GOP County Chairman: Ernst’s Missed Votes Prove She “Has Largely Forgotten About The Responsibilities Of Her Current Job As State Senator.” In an April 2014 letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register, former Polk County Republican Party co-chair Chad Brown wrote, “As a boss, you wouldn’t accept this from an employee. As a parent, you wouldn’t allow this for your child at school. So, why then, do we tolerate this from our elected officials? No example of this is more glaring than state Sen. Joni Ernst. While out and about campaigning and fundraising across the country as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Ernst has largely forgotten about the responsibilities of her current job as a state senator. She has missed 117 out of the 197 total votes in the Senate this year, including those on issues important to our state and its residents, such as the reopening of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. [Chad Brown, letter to the editor, Des Moines Register, 4/28/14]

Privatize Social Security

Ernst: “We Do Have To Look At Some Sort Of Personal Savings Account.” At an April 2014 IPTV Republican Senate debate, in response to a question about Social Security Joni Ernst said: “I think we have to keep the promises that have been made to our seniors but we do have to change the way we do business with our younger workers or those that are just entering the workforce. And I agree, we do have to look at some sort of a personal savings account. But the bottom line is that those savings accounts should not be and should be established so that the federal bureaucrats should not be able to raid those savings accounts [IPTV Republican Primary Debate, 4/25/14] (video 34:00)

Ernst: “I Would Like To See” Privatized Social Security. At an April 2014 Republican Senate Forum, in response to a question about Social Security, Joni Ernst replied: “What I would like to see, and what we need to have further discussions on, is transitioning our younger workers, those that are just going into the workforce, into perhaps a personal savings account and something that cannot be raided by our federal government.” [Iowa State College Republicans Senate Forum, 4/2/14] (video 39:21)

Ernst: One Change To Social Security Would Be “Personal Savings Accounts.” In May 2014, in response to a question about Social Security, Joni Ernst said: “We do have to look at perhaps, one way of doing it would be personal savings accounts for younger workers that are coming up through the workforce.” (video 51:00)

Ernst On Social Security: “I Do Like Looking At The Personal Savings Account Option.” In April 2014, in response to a question about Social Security, Joni Ernst said: “For Social Security, we have to keep the promises that are made to today’s seniors. But, for younger workers that are entering the workforce, we do have to look at something that is sustainable, and I do like looking at the personal savings account option, but it has to be done in such a way that those personal savings accounts cannot be raided by bureaucrats.” [Family Leader Forum, 4/25/14] (video 1:00)

Ernst: Tying Social Security To The Stock Market Is “Something That We Need To Consider.” At a May 2014 interview with The Des Moines Register editorial board, in response to a question about Social Security, Joni Ernst said: “Something I’m willing to look at is a personal savings account, and it would be one that, whether it’s interest bearing or whether it’s tied to the market, ya know, I would need to look at the details, but I do think that’s something we need to consider.” [Des Moines Register ed-board interview, 5/9/14] (video 32:00)

Ernst: Privatizing Social Security “Might” Cost More, “But We Have To Change It.” At a May 2014 interview with The Des Moines Register editorial board, in response to her proposal to privatize Social Security, a reporter asked: “That’s gonna cost you more in the long run, isn’t it?” Ernst replied: “Well, it might, and that’s why I said we need to take a look at this. This is something I’m willing to take a look at. But there may be a few years where it is difficult, but we have to change it. Just because we have it in place, it’s not working right now it’s not sustainable. But does that mean because it might be difficult, we’re not going to change it? We have to make changes.” [Des Moines Register ed-board interview, 5/9/14] (video 34:00)

Minimum Wage

Ernst Said Minimum Wage Was A “Great Safety Net” But Opposed Raising it. Ernst said: “I think we, it is a good thing to have a minimum wage, it is a great safety net for those that need it. However, we do need better paying jobs and I do agree with the skill gap and we need to have skilled labor, no matter what the state is. But community colleges, I believe that is the state’s function is working with those community colleges and making sure that we have the skilled labor force.” The moderator said: “But you avoided, to the best of my knowledge you avoided saying whether or not to raise the current –“Ernst said: “I would not raise the current one. I do believe that we have a number of people that will start in those introductory level jobs and hopefully then progress out of those jobs into better paying jobs as their skills increase.” [IPTV Press debate, 4/24/14] (Video 17:00)

Ernst: The Minimum Wage Is A “Safety Net” – “Hopefully They Move On To Other Positions Of Greater Responsibilities.” In May 2014, Radio Iowa reported, “Joni Ernst, a state senator, opposes an increase in the minimum wage. ‘But it is a safety net for those that are just entering the workplace, gaining some initial skills before they hopefully move on to other positions of greater responsibility which will pay more and I think we’ve already determined that many of the jobs here in Iowa and across the United States already pay more than the minimum wage,’ Ernst said. ‘I don’t think the government should be involved in that discussion.’” [Radio Iowa, 5/20/14] (video)

Government Shutdown

Ernst Said She Would Have Voted Against Ending Shutdown, Raising Debt Ceiling. In October 2013, The Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier reported, “Congressional Republicans may have split their vote on the compromise to end the government shutdown and raise the federal debt ceiling, but those running for the Iowa GOP’s nomination for the U.S. Senate next year are voicing near-unanimity on the issue. They said Thursday they would have voted against it… State Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, also would have voted no, according to an email from her campaign.” [Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, 10/18/13]

Women’s Health

2013: Ernst Sponsored A Resolution Proposing A Fetal “Personhood” Amendment To The Iowa Constitution. The Des Moines Register reported: “Twenty-one members of the Iowa Senate filed a resolution Thursday proposing a fetal ‘personhood’ amendment to the Iowa Constitution that would give human embryos a right to life beginning at conception…Besides Guth and Seng, other sponsors are Republican Sens. Ken Rozenboom of Oskaloosa, Kent Sorenson of Milo, Amy Sinclair of Allerton, Nancy Boettger of Harlan, David Johnson of Ocheyedan, Jake Chapman of Adel, Mark Segebart of Vail, Bill Anderson of Pierson, Joni Ernst of Red Oak, Rick Bertrand of Sioux City, Tim Kapucian of Keystone, Hubert Houser of Carson, Jack Whitver of Ankeny, Mark Chelgren of Ottumwa, Michael Breitbach of Strawberry Point, Jerry Behn of Boone, Brad Zaun of Urbandale, Randy Feenstra of Hull and Roby Smith of Davenport.” [Des Moines Register, 4/26/13]

Iowa Personhood Bill Was “Identical To The Wording Of A Personhood Amendment Recently Approved By The North Dakota Legislature,” Which “Could Prohibit In-Vitro Fertilization And Some Methods Of Contraception.” In April 2013,The Des Moines Register reported, “Twenty-one members of the Iowa Senate filed a resolution Thursday proposing a fetal ‘personhood’ amendment to the Iowa Constitution which would give human embryos a right to life beginning at conception …The language in the Iowa Senate resolution appears to be identical to the wording of a personhood amendment recently approved by the North Dakota Legislature.” The Register continued, “Opponents of the North Dakota amendment have called it an intrusion on women’s private medical decisions, adding it could prohibit in-vitro fertilization and some methods of contraception.” [Des Moines Register, 4/25/13]

North Dakota Personhood Amendment Did Not Include Exceptions For Rape, Incest Or Life Of The Mother. In March 2013, The HuffingtonPost reported, “North Dakota became the first state on Friday to pass a fetal personhood amendment, which grants legal personhood rights to embryos from the moment of fertilization … The amendment would ban abortion in the state, without exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother, and it could affect the legality of some forms of birth control, stem cell research and in vitro fertilization.” [, 3/22/13]

In other primary news, State Representative Pat Murphy will face Rod Blum in IA-01; Dave Loebsack will match up with Mariannette Miller-Meeks for the third time in IA-02; Staci Appel will get clear sailing until the Republican party decides who their candidate will be at a convention on Saturday, June 21, in IA-03 (top vote-getter Brad Zaun did not clear the 35 percent bar to get the nomination at the polls); and it will be Jim Mowrer vs. Steve King in IA-04.

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