Challenge accepted, but no details yet for Ernst-Greenfield debates

Candidates and their allies already fighting over the tactic

U.A. Sen. Joni Ernst answers questions during an Aug, 20, 2019, town hall with employees at the DuPont Industrial Biosci
U.A. Sen. Joni Ernst answers questions during an Aug, 20, 2019, town hall with employees at the DuPont Industrial Biosciences facility in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s proposal for six debates with challenger Theresa Greenfield drew quick responses Monday from the rival and her allies, who called it a stunt that highlights the incumbent’s weakness going into the November election.

Ernst, a first-term Republican, called for six debates — two each in August, September and October.

“You know, I haven’t heard Theresa Greenfield say one thing that Chuck Schumer hasn’t told her to say,” Ernst said in a video posted Monday. “And, that’s not what Iowans expect in a leader. Let’s let Iowans hear what we have to say”

Schumer, a New York senator, is the Senate minority leader whose leadership political action committee backed Greenfield in the five-way Democratic primary election.

“When it comes to debates, I’m looking forward to it,” Greenfield told reporters later Monday. However, she declined to say whether she would agree to Ernst’s proposal for six debate.

Before the five-way Democratic primary election, Greenfield said, she participated in three televised debates, six forums and 100 public campaign events. She and her campaign are talking to media outlets about debate opportunities, she added.

Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said that because Greenfield “is clearly unprepared to lead and her ideas are out-of-touch with Iowans, the last thing she wants to do is debate a tested and proven leader like Joni.”

Generally, it is challengers who call for debates in order to raise their visibility among voters. Incumbents tend to limit the number of debates.

Monday afternoon, Greenfield had a call with Iowa media to talk about rural issues. She called for the resignation of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler. The agency’s waivers exempting refineries from ethanol production requirements coupled with low demand for ethanol during the coronavirus pandemic are having a devastating impact on Iowa’s biofuels industry, she said.

Greenfield’s campaign, the IDP and their allies quickly labeled Ernst’s debate challenge a stunt that only serves to reinforce that Ernst is trailing in the polls. Recent polls have shown Greenfield leading by 3 percentage points, which is within the margin of error.

If Ernst wants to talk to Iowans, she can start by saying whether she supports a lawsuit that could dismantle the Affordable Care Act and explaining her “ongoing dark money scandal,” said Greenfield spokesman Sam Newton.

The Iowa Democratic Party invoked the traditional Catholic prayer that is part of the Rosary and Angelus, calling the debate challenge a “hail mary stunt.”

“Iowans know her as a failed Washington politician, and voters are ready to hold her accountable for putting corporate special interests ahead of Iowans,” spokesman Jeremy Busch said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee pointed to that and other comments to say Greenfield’s “Washington bosses and left-wing bloggers have taken to Twitter to dismiss the Iowa tradition of accessibility.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tweeted that Ernst’s strategy was to: “Dress up as a biker instead of an incumbent Senator and make a process argument about debates.”


That promoted this retort from Ernst, a motorcycle rider who hosts an annual fundraiser that attracts hundreds of motorcyclists: “Dress up? Oh, please. I called for six debates on the serious issues facing Iowans, and national democrats respond by talking about my wardrobe.”

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