Outside political action committee prods for Ernst vulnerability with poll

But Iowa GOP criticizes tactic of using 'push poll'

U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield speaks during the Finkenauer Fish Fry Nov. 2 at the Hawkeye Downs Expo Center i
U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield speaks during the Finkenauer Fish Fry Nov. 2 at the Hawkeye Downs Expo Center in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

A new poll on Iowa’s U.S. Senate race finds that Sen. Joni Ernst leads her Democratic Party-backed challenger by 6 points until they are told about allegations the incumbent Republican violated anti-corruption laws to funnel dark money to benefit her campaign.

Then Theresa Greenfield, who is in a four-way race for the Democratic Senate nomination, pulls ahead 45 to 40 percent, according to a Public Policy Polling telephone survey of 944 Iowa voters Dec. 13-15. The poll has a 3.2 percent margin of error.

The take-away for End Citizens United, which commissioned the poll, is that Ernst, who is seeking a second term, is vulnerable. In a head-to-head contest with Greenfield, she’s under 50 percent — not a good sign for an incumbent.

“Iowans know too many politicians vote on behalf of their corporate special interest donors, which is why the news about Sen. Ernst’s campaign illegally soliciting dark money is so damaging to her,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, which has endorsed Greenfield.

Ernst went to Washington promising to “make ’em squeal,” Muller said, but by using dark money to benefit her campaign has shown she’s part of “the broken system in Washington.”

“Dark money” refers to political spending where the source of the money — a political nonprofit or a super PAC — is publicly unknown, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Republicans questioned the validity of a “push poll” by a Democratic polling firm.

Push polls are a form of negative campaigning disguised as research, according to the American Association of Public Opinion Research.


It’s hypocritical for an organization that wants to end dark money not to call out Greenfield for accepting campaign contributions when the source of the money is unknown, the GOP said.

“National Democrats are swooping into Iowa with dark money groups like ‘Iowa Voices,’ spending millions in false TV ads against Sen. Ernst and this bogus partisan push poll in a desperate effort to hide the fact that Chuck Schumer’s candidate Theresa Greenfield won’t even answer the most basic questions from Iowans,” Republican Party of Iowa spokesman Aaron Britt said.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Schumer and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have endorsed Greenfield. End Citizens United, which claims 27,800 Iowa members, endorsed Greenfield because of her commitment to reform, including rejecting corporate PAC money.

Britt called that hypocritical because Greenfield, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has taken $186,000 from leadership PACs though companies, labor unions, trade associations and others with business before Congress often fund them.

End Citizens United, a traditional PAC, told the center Greenfield doesn’t violate the spirit of the no-corporate PAC money pledge because unlike corporate PACs, “leadership” PACs are headed by officeholders or candidates who decide where to spend the money.

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