Opinion

Capitol Ideas: Contentious start to a competitive campaign

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst answers questions during an Aug. 20, 2019, forum with employees at the DuPont Industrial Bioscience
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst answers questions during an Aug. 20, 2019, forum with employees at the DuPont Industrial Biosciences facility in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Long, competitive election campaigns are familiar territory for Iowans.

We’re accustomed to the 6 o’clock news hour featuring nothing but political advertisements, campaign volunteers knocking on our doors and road signs. My goodness, the road signs.

But even with all the experience Iowans have accumulated over the politics-filled years, it sure feels like we’re going to need the strongest of stomachs to get through the next few months.

Iowa, in case you haven’t heard — and if you haven’t, I’m sorry to hear about your broken TV — has a U.S. Senate race on the ballot in this fall’s election.

Republican Joni Ernst, a former state legislator from Red Oak, is completing her first six-year term as a U.S. senator. She is being challenged by Democrat Theresa Greenfield, a Des Moines businesswoman.

It’s starting out as a close race, and it’s an important one — not only for the state, but the national political picture.

Because of those two factors, the Ernst-Greenfield race promises to be a real knockdown, drag-out, affair from now until the Nov. 3 election.

Buckle up. There will be no room for buttercups.

As most political observers expected, this race appears to be close. Both of the first two major post-primary polls on the race, published in mid-June, were within the margins for error. It bears noting that Greenfield, the challenger, held a slim lead in both polls. But the greater point is that this thing is starting out every bit as close as expected.

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The view from national forecasters is unanimous: Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Politico all say Iowa’s race “leans Republican,” indicating they expect a close race with Ernst slightly favored to win.

In other words: yeah, this thing’s close.

That alone would be cause for an intense, five-month campaign.

That the Iowa race will help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate for the next two years only intensifies the intensity.

National groups — the national Republican and Democratic parties, and who knows how many outside groups — are getting involved in this race. A lot of dollars will be spent on campaign advertising in Iowa.

With so much at stake and so much invested, the campaign will be no territory for the lighthearted. This past week proved as much.

Republicans came out swinging after the primary, challenging Greenfield’s business record. They accused her of being involved with real estate businesses that forced small businesses out of a suburban Des Moines shopping center and faced multiple lawsuits. The Greenfield campaign has pushed back at the allegations, and The Gazette’s Fact Checker gave claims in one advertisement only a “C” grade.

Meantime, Democrats pounded Ernst for supporting congressional Republicans’ attempts to erase the federal health care law known as Obamacare and for siding with special interests over Iowa’s needs.

The campaigns also traded barbs over the candidates’ struggles with names: While speaking on the U.S. Senate floor about Iowa’s racial justice legislation, Ernst mispronounced the first name of Iowa Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, and Greenfield misnamed federal Environmental Protection Agency head Andrew Wheeler.

And that’s just the beginning. There are 18 more weeks of this.

Toughen up that stomach and settle in.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

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