CEDAR RAPIDS — Democrats running for their party’s nomination for U.S. Senate alternated between touting their rural bona fides and attacking incumbent Republican Sen. Joni Ernst as “wholly a creation of the Koch brothers.”
“She was plucked from relative obscurity in 2013 from a field of six or seven other Republicans by the Koch brothers,” former television reporter Cal Woods of Des Moines said, referring to philanthropists and funders of myriad libertarian, criminal justice and Republican Party causes. “They threw millions of dollars into her campaign ... and, boy, did they get a great return on their investment.”
The four others running in the June 2 primary election to face Ernst in November piled on during a 90-minute online forum hosted by the Southwest Iowa Democrats on Sunday afternoon.
“I trump those things that Joni used to get elected,” said retired admiral Mike Franken of Sioux City, who like Ernst, grew up in rural Iowa, had a military career and doesn’t live in Polk County. “I know more about farm animals than Joni Ernst ever will.”
Woods, who mentioned growing up on a Linn County hog farm, talked about the importance of supporting farmers just as the federal government has bailed out corporations such as Chrysler, banks during the Great Recession and now during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need to make sure that we’re giving the assistance that farmers need (because) food security is a part of our national security,” he said.
Des Moines businessman Eddie Mauro said none of the other candidates has been “grounded in the rural communities and has worked to improve the lives of rural Iowa in the ways that I have, especially Joni Ernst.”
“Right now, rural Iowans need a voice in the U.S. Senate ... and I want to be that voice,” Mauro said.
Theresa Greenfield of Des Moines repeatedly referred to herself as a “scrappy farm kid” who sees Iowa farmers struggling.
“As someone who grew up in the farm crisis and suffered through the economic downturn that ruined so many farm families across this Midwest, I take it really personal what’s going on right now,” Greenfield said, adding that net farm income has fallen 75 percent since 2013 and bankruptcies are at an eight-year high.
Several times Greenfield said that unlike Ernst, she is not taking any financial support from corporate political action committees. A Republican Party of Iowa spokesman called that a “blatant lie.”
“Not only does Theresa Greenfield take money from corporate-funded leadership PACs, she also benefits from millions in dark money spending,” Aaron Britt said, referring to an OpenSecrets.org report that Greenfield “topped the list of (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer’s Democratic candidates who took the most money from corporate-funded Leadership PACs.”
Attorney Kimberly Graham didn’t stake a claim to a farm background, but claimed to have lived in rural Iowa longer than the other candidates.
“You could argue (Indianola) is only 30 minutes from Des Moines,” she said. “I don’t know when you get a designation of more rural or less rural, but you know, it’s not Des Moines. I think I have a better understanding, since I have most recently lived in rural Iowa, of what’s important.”
The candidates were broadly in agreement on expanding government access to health care, child care and housing, investing heavily in infrastructure, especially broadband, and more fairly taxing corporations and the wealthiest Americans.
Later Sunday, the candidates participated in a virtual forum hosted by Pottawattamie Democrats.
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