By Rod Boshart and Erin Murphy, Lee-Gazette Des Moines Bureau
BOONE --- Joni Ernst revved up her 2020 U.S. Senate reelection campaign Saturday by pledging to take the fight aggressively to Democrats with expectations for victory next year.
The source of Ernst’s optimism appears to be her belief that Democrats --- particularly the roughly two dozen frequenting Iowa as they seek their party’s nomination for president --- are becoming more liberal and embracing socialism.
“All across Iowa, liberal Democrats running for president --- almost two dozen of them --- are advocating for a socialist agenda,” Ernst said, adding later, “Our freedoms are quite literally under attack because the radical left will stop at nothing until socialism has spread from coast to coast. And we all know there is a better way.”
Ernst, who is finishing her first six-year term as a Republican U.S. Senator from Iowa, made her widely expected reelection campaign official Saturday at her annual “Roast and Ride” fundraiser at the Central Iowa Expo.
During her remarks at the fundraiser, Ernst pointed to policy proposals from some of the Democratic presidential candidates like “government-run health care” and Andrew Yang’s proposal for a universal basic income, a $1,000-per-month government-funded stipend for every U.S. adult.
“Is that true to Iowa values?” Ernst asked the crowd.
More than 1,000 supporters attended the fundraiser, campaign organizers said.
Three Democrats thus far have announced they are running for the U.S. Senate. Des Moines real estate businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, Des Moines businessman Eddie Mauro and Indianola attorney Kimberly Graham will compete in a primary for the right to face Ernst in next year’s general election.
“While Senator Ernst spends the day reaffirming her support for Donald Trump’s extreme agenda, Democrats are holding more than 50 events across the state to show our communities that we’re committed to organizing in every corner of the state and building a better Iowa together,” Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Iowans won’t forget Ernst’s broken promises and Democrats are building a ground game to make sure voters know the truth about Ernst’s record of putting political ambitions above the best interests of the Hawkeye state.”
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Speaking to reporters before jumping on her motorcycle for the “ride” portion of Saturday’s fundraiser, Ernst expressed confidence that her reelection campaign will be victorious.
“I know that this is an important seat that the Democrats would love to have back, but I’m going to make them fight for it and they are going to fail,” Ernst said before leading a pack of about 250 motorcyclists on a 49-mile ride from Des Moines to Boone.
Ernst’s 5th Roast and Ride fundraiser took her and a long column of riders from the Big Barn Harley-Davidson parking lot along a route past the Iowa National Guard Camp Dodge headquarters near Johnston --- where Ernst spent time as an Iowa National Guard soldier --- and over the “Mile Long Bridge” at Saylorville Lake to the Central Iowa Expo in Boone at about 12:33 p.m.
Cars, trucks and a pair of motorcyclists pulled to the side of the road and some honked as Ernst passed. A small group near Saylorville sat in a driveway, with a man standing alongside waving a large American flag as the riders passed.
Ernst was joined at the Boone event by Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former governor of South Carolina, along with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Ernst, 48, a Red Oak Republican who defeated Democrat Bruce Braley in 2014, said she expects a tough challenge in 2020, but she believes she has amassed the record and experience over the past five years in working for Iowans that will win her the support she needs to prevail in November 2020.
“I am going to hold this seat,” she said.
While she is clearly pleased to campaign against the Democratic presidential candidates’ policies, Ernst conceded their presence in Iowa also drives up enthusiasm for Democratic voters, which could drive up turnout in 2020 and impact down-ballot races like Ernst’s.
Ernst said she expects Republicans to counter with a strong, coordinated 2020 effort by next year.
“Guaranteed, voter turnout in Iowa is going to be very high,” Ernst said.
Despite occasionally parting ways with Republican President Donald Trump on some issues, such as using trade tariffs against Mexico to change immigration policies, Ernst said she would welcome his help in her reelection effort “as often as he wants to come to Iowa.”
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“The president is using the tools that are at his disposal,” she told reporters. “I’ve talked to the president. He knows that I’m not necessarily a tariff gal, but he will tell me that I’m a tariff guy. So I push back on it when I think it’s necessary.
“But at the same time what I’m hearing from farmers across the state is that they are OK with the stance on China.”
Overall, Ernst said the country is doing well under Trump’s leadership.
“Regardless of where you stand on the president, look at the policies, look at our economy. I mean, it is growing, it is booming. The policies are working,” she said. “I would really enjoy it if the president campaigned for me.”