Government

Campaigns claim fundraising records in Iowa's Senate race

Ernst-Greenfield race attracts big bucks, national attention

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks May 6 during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (Caroline Brehman/AP
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks May 6 during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (Caroline Brehman/AP
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DES MOINES — Theresa Greenfield’s $6 million haul was the best-ever by an Iowa Democrat, her campaign said.

But Republican Joni Ernst emerged with the healthier campaign account, sitting on more than $9 million that her campaign said is a record in its own right.

And the U.S. Senate race in Iowa is just getting started in earnest.

The end of June closed the books on the first federal campaign fundraising period of the 2020 general election. Reports were filed Wednesday.

An examination of the fundraising reports for Ernst and Greenfield, the top candidates in Iowa’s competitive and consequential Senate race, reveals who raised the big bucks, who raised the little bucks and where all that money came from.

Greenfield, a Des Moines businesswoman and the Democratic challenger, raised just over $6 million in the period, which covered April through June. Her campaign claimed it was a record for a Democrat running in Iowa for the U.S. Senate.

Greenfield’s haul was $2.4 million more than what Ernst raised in the same period, despite what typically is an incumbent’s advantage.

“This newest embarrassment for Sen. Ernst is the latest sign Iowans are ready for change,” Greenfield campaign spokesman Sam Newton said in an email.

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But the situation is far from dire for Ernst, the Republican from Red Oak who is finishing her first, six-year term.

She ended June with more than $9.1 million still in her account, a total her campaign claims is $3 million more than the previous highest such figure for any recent Iowa candidate in such a race.

Ernst’s campaign hits the summer months with a $3.5 million advantage over Greenfield, who was forced to spend money during the period in the lead-up to the state’s June 2 primary election. Greenfield was in a four-way Democratic primary race, while Ernst was unchallenged.

“Team Joni is energized by the grassroots momentum that continues to build as Joni crisscrosses the state and visits with Iowans,” Ernst campaign spokesman Brendan Conley said in an email.

Iowa’s U.S. Senate race between Ernst and Greenfield is expected to be contentious. The race is drawing national attention because its outcome figures to play a critical role in determining which political party emerges from the Nov. election with a U.S. Senate majority.

Political forecasters predict a close race. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report rate the race as leaning in Ernst’s favor, while Inside Elections, Politico and the Niskanen Center all see the race as a tossup.

The most recent public polling on the race, in early June from Selzer & Company with the Des Moines Register, and Public Policy Polling, showed a close race with Greenfield in a slight lead within the polls’ margins for error.

The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau examined the candidates’ July Quarterly and Pre-Primary fundraising reports for this article.

IOWA DONORS

Candidates will go wherever they can to raise money — and both Ernst and Greenfield did. But how did each do in their home state?

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They had nearly the same number of Iowa donors, but Greenfield’s apparently had slightly deeper pockets.

Ernst recorded 2,873 donations from Iowans during the period for a total of nearly $645,000, an average of $224 per donation, according to an examination of the fundraising records.

Greenfield collected 2,543 donations from Iowans for a total of $1.6 million, an average of $616 per donation.

BIG-MONEY DONORS

Greenfield has famously made the pledge to not accept donations from corporate donor groups known as PACs, a promise Republicans have disputed. Regardless, other types of PACs are certainly helping Greenfield’s cause.

She received 40 donations of at least $3,000 from myriad PACs during the cycle, including two big donations totaling nearly $46,000 from Secure Our Senate, a PAC supporting a handful of Democratic U.S. Senate candidates.

But the biggest PAC supporting Greenfield has been Emily’s List, an advocacy group that works to get Democratic women elected to public office. Emily’s List donated nearly $157,000 to Greenfield during the period, records show.

Ernst received 48 donations of at least $3,000 from PACs. The Vote Sane PAC, which supports Republican U.S. Senate candidates, donated nearly $62,000 to Ernst. The Pro-Israel America PAC donated more than $43,000 to Ernst, and the Republican Jewish Coalition donated more than $32,000.

GRASSROOTS DONORS

Ernst outpaced Greenfield among low-dollar donors. Ernst received 15,890 donations of $50 or less, totaling more than $458,000.

Greenfield received 12,309 donations of $50 or less, totaling more than $235,000.

ONLINE DONORS

ActBlue has been an online fundraising gold mine for Democratic candidates. Donors used the online portal to donate $1.6 billion to Democratic candidates in the 2018 election, and another $1 billion in 2019.

Greenfield drew $2.7 million from nearly 10,000 donations through ActBlue during the recent fundraising period.

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Republicans have attempted to duplicate the ActBlue template with their own online fundraising mechanism, WinRed.

Ernst received just more than $1 million from nearly 10,000 WinRed donations.

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