DES MOINES — There was not quite as much cross talk as the first time Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield got together to debate, but the two did spend a portion of Saturday evening’s event doing some live fact-checking of each other.
Ernst, a Republican first-term incumbent, faces Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield in Iowa’s competitive and high-stakes U.S. Senate race.
Most recent polling on the race has shown Greenfield in the lead but within the polls’ margins for error, and the race’s outcome could play a role in determining which party emerges from the Nov. 3 election with a majority in the U.S. Senate.
This was the second debate this week between Ernst and Greenfield. During the first, on Monday night on Iowa PBS, the two regularly talked over one another.
The second debate, broadcast Saturday night by Des Moines NBC station WHO-TV and some of its partners across the state, featured less cross talk but some acrimonious moments as the candidates fact-checked each other’s allegations.
Ernst accused Greenfield of “making things up on the fly,” and being “totally inappropriate and unprofessional” after Greenfield suggested Ernst wants to privatize or even “defund” Social Security.
Ernst has said she believes both Republicans and Democrats need to work on changes to Social Security to keep it solvent. Democrats have seized on Ernst previously saying she believes the parties need to work on the issue “behind closed doors.” Ernst’s full comment, made at a town hall event, was: “I do think, as various parties and members of Congress, we need to sit down behind closed doors so we’re not being scrutinized by this group or the other and just have an open and honest conversation about what are some of the ideas that we have for maintaining Social Security in the future.”
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Greenfield accused Ernst of “being dishonest and certainly misleading,” after Ernst alleged Greenfield called police officers racist.
What Greenfield has said is that she believes there is systemic racism in multiple American institutions — including policing but also education, housing and others — when she has been asked about racial and social justice.
“We have discrimination and we need to take (action), and taking action is not the same thing as calling a health care worker or a police officer or an educator racist,” Greenfield said. “We need to address systemic racism.”
Ernst apologized to health care workers who were upset by her response at a town hall event to an individual who told Ernst he believes COVID-19 deaths are being over-counted. Ernst responded at the town hall by saying she, too, was “skeptical” of the numbers.
Ernst offered the apology during the debate’s final segment, in which the candidates were allowed to ask their opponent a question. Greenfield asked Ernst if she would apologize to health care workers who were offended by the suggestion that the industry may be inflating COVID-19-related deaths.
“I have apologized to our health care workers and I will apologize again tonight. I am so sorry that my words may have offended you,” Ernst said. “I know that you are tremendous workers. You are essential workers. You are providing care for our loved ones every single day.”
Ernst, in turn, asked Greenfield if she would apologize to business owners whose businesses were displaced during a 2015 redevelopment project overseen by the real estate company for which Greenfield was an executive at the time. Greenfield refused, alleging once again that Ernst was being misleading.
“That’s not what happened,” Greenfield said, adding that she is proud of her business record. “It was an economic development project, and we gave every single tenant more notice than was required, and we helped many of them move on to new locations, some of them in the same properties that we owned.”
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To a question about the COVID-19 pandemic, Ernst said the federal government should be responsible for providing public health guidance and resources to states, but said decisions like when and whether to order businesses closed or enact face mask mandates should be left to the states.
“Every state is very different, and some of the restrictions that might be really great in a crowded, metropolitan area may not work for those that are working in agriculture in the state of Iowa,” Ernst said. “So it is important that our governors and our mayors, those that have authority at the local level can actually step in and determine what might be right for their citizens.”
Greenfield placed even more responsibility with the federal government, and said she has been frustrated with the direction and support from the current federal government.
“When it comes to a global pandemic, the federal government should be the authority on how we get through this health and economic crisis,” Greenfield said.
Election Day is Nov. 3, but Iowans can start voting Monday, when the state’s early-voting period begins.
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