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← Why Iowa’s Senate Race is one of the Closest in the Nation


Showing Revision 12 created 02/23/2018 by Rebekah Wadsworth.

  1. A quick look at the calendar
    reminds us that today is just
  2. seven weeks away from
    this year's Midterm elections,
  3. when voters across the country
    will be deciding ballot issues and
  4. choosing state and local office
    holders and members of Congress;
  5. with control of the U.S. Senate
    up for grabs.
  6. I headed to Iowa this past weekend;
    the site of one of the closest contests
  7. in the nation.
  8. (Indistinct yelling)
  9. If you love college football, the place to
    be in Iowa this past weekend
  10. was Iowa City.
  11. The home of the
    University of Iowa Hawkeyes,
  12. as they hosted the Iowa State Cyclones.
  13. The beer flowed freely, and over
    a hundred thousand exuberant fans jostled;
  14. ready to cheer or jeer
    at the slightest provocation.
  15. It's the biggest and oldest
    rivalry in this state,
  16. and it played out as another newer rivalry
    is reaching a full boil:
  17. the contest for
    the open U.S. Senate seat here;
  18. being vacated by 30-year
    democratic veteran, Tom Harkin.
  19. It's a battle between four-term
    democratic congressman Bruce Braley,
  20. and Joni Ernst-- until just a few months
    ago a little-known
  21. Republican State Senator--
  22. from a town of just over five thousand,
  23. who splashed onto the political scene
    with a TV ad touting her experience
  24. growing up on an Iowa farm.
  25. (Joni speaking in her ad) "I'm Joni Ernst.
    I grew up
  26. castrating hogs
    on an Iowa farm.
  27. So, when I get to Washington,
    I'll know how to cut pork."
  28. (Pig squeals)
  29. Other TV spots stressed how comfortable
    the National Guard Lieutenant
  30. Colonel, who served in Iraq,
    is shooting a gun.
  31. (Narrator in the ad)
    "Joni doesn't miss much."
  32. All this endeared her to
    conservative voters,
  33. who catapulted her
    to an impressive 56% win
  34. in a field of five Republicans.
  35. Since her primary victory
    in early June, however,
  36. She's put less emphasis on her strong
  37. anti-abortion and gun rights views,
  38. and reworded the slogan on her website.
  39. 'Mother, Soldier, Conservative,'
  40. to 'Mother, Soldier, Independent Leader.'
  41. Ernst herself, an Iowa State grad,
  42. who said she was staying neutral
    on this big game day,
  43. downplays the change in tone.
  44. (Joni speaking) "It's a different
    challenge, but what we have to do is
  45. compare and contrast between myself and
    the congressman,
  46. and I stand for Iowa,
    and what's good for Iowans.
  47. We have done very well here as a state,
  48. and I believe our federal government
    needs to emulate Iowa.
  49. Congressman Braley is part of Washington
    D.C. bureaucracy.
  50. It doesn't work for Iowa."
  51. Iowa's Republican governor,
    Terry Branstad,
  52. who appears to be sailing to reelection
    to his sixth term in that office,
  53. is campaigning hard for Ernst; who
    surprised Democrats
  54. and pulled even with Braley.
  55. (Interviewer) "Did you like the
    'castrating hogs' ad?"
  56. (Branstad) "I loved it! I grew up on
    a farm, holding hogs
  57. that the veterinarian castrated as well.
  58. But, that's the kind of stuff that we
    farm kids do.
  59. And, working long hours...
  60. And, not too many women are lieutenant
    colonels in the National Guard,
  61. have combat experience.
  62. We've never elected a woman,
  63. but this is a woman that I think
    can serve Iowa well."
  64. The selling point that Iowa has never
    before elected a woman to Congress
  65. works with some voters, but not others.
  66. "To me, these elections, oftentimes,
    women are the swing portion of the vote.
  67. I think voting for a woman would be
    attractive to them. "
  68. "Well, it would be wonderful,
    right, but I just wouldn't
  69. vote for someone
    just because they're a woman."
  70. Some say they like her, because she
    represents something different.
  71. "First of all, Harkin, I would say,
    has done an acceptable job,
  72. he's done a good job.
  73. I'm not sure the candidate on his side
    is the one that's going to make
  74. any changes in Washington.
    So, I would take the new-comer. "
  75. But there are strong opinions against
    her as well,
  76. especially on the stances she's taken
    on issues like social security,
  77. abortion, and contraception.
  78. "From a woman's perspective, I don't agree
    on what she says.
  79. Especially with abortion, and then the
    whole... no abortion with rape
  80. or incest. I don't agree with that
    at all."
  81. The intensity in the race reflects the
    fact that this is the first time
  82. in forty years that Iowa has had a wide
    open race for the U.S. Senate,
  83. with no incumbent on the ballot.
  84. Add to that the stakes. The fact that the
    U.S. Senate literally hangs
  85. in the balance.
  86. As a result, the national Democratic
    and Republican parties
  87. are leaving nothing to chance.
  88. Outside groups are pouring in millions
    of dollars;
  89. and the candidates themselves are
    under extra pressure
  90. to perform well, and to energize the
    party faithful.
  91. High-profile Republicans such as Marco
    Rubio, Rand Paul, and Sarah Palin
  92. have all come to Iowa
    to campaign for Ernst.
  93. (photographers shouting)
  94. This weekend, Hillary and Bill Clinton
    showed up at Senator Harkin's
  95. last annual steak fry celebration, to
    thank him,
  96. and put in a pitch for Democrat
    Bruce Braley.
  97. (Hillary speaking) "In just fifty days,
    Iowans have a choice to make.
  98. A choice, and a chance.
  99. A choice between the
    guardians of gridlock,
  100. and the champions of shared opportunity
    and shared prosperity.
  101. A chance to elect a senator who knows
    that women should be able to make
  102. our own healthcare decisions."
  103. (Cheering from the crowd)
  104. If Ernst's Achilles Heel is her very
    conservative track record,
  105. for Braley, it's some controversies
    he's created.
  106. He seemed to denigrate Iowa's other U.S.
    Senator, Charles Grassley,
  107. as a farmer from Iowa who never
    went to law school.
  108. Braley apologized to Grassley, and
    says he has put the incident behind him.
  109. He bores in instead on what his campaign
  110. His opponent's out-of-the-mainstream
  111. (Braley speaking) "My challenge in this
    race has always been
  112. to make sure that the voters of Iowa
    understand the clear choices
  113. between us in this senate race,
    On issues that affect Iowa's economy.
  114. I voted for a five-year farm bill. I
    worked three years and worked with
  115. Republicans to pass it. She said she
    would have voted against it."
  116. Besides the farm bill on ethanol
  117. voters bring up social security
    and medicare.
  118. Longtime Iowa political reporter, O. Kay
    Henderson, says issues are at play;
  119. but in this state with a low unemployment
    rate, she believes the race may turn
  120. on something else.
  121. (Henderson speaking) "When it boils down
    to it, this is a character race right now.
  122. They're both trying to cast the other as
    the kind of character that you just
  123. can't trust in Washington."
  124. Both campaigns and outside groups are
    contributing to the character war,
  125. with spots like these:
  126. (Narrator on the ad) "Joni Ernst would
    be another tea party vote
  127. in the senate. Ernst would privatize
    social security."
  128. (Narrator on a different ad) "Bruce
    Braley, trial lawyer and
  129. Washington politician, supports
  130. Democratic strategist, Jeff Link, insists
    Braley's early gaffs in the campaign,
  131. won't stick in voters' minds.
  132. (Link speaking) "I think we've had about
    twelve commercials that have used
  133. the clip of the Grassley comment,
    and I don't think there's a person in Iowa
  134. that doesn't know about it.
  135. I hope they understand that
    he has a strong commitment
  136. to Iowa agriculture- that's why the Iowa
    corn growers endorsed him-
  137. and we're still in the position that
    we are;
  138. where she is viewed more unfavorably
    than he is."
  139. Braley's campaign is making sure of that,
    with spots of its own.
  140. (Man in ad) "But I just don't trust
    Joni Ernst."
  141. (Woman in ad) "She supports a plan, to
    eliminate medicare's guaranteed benefit."
  142. Republican strategist, David Kochel,
    who's advising the Ernst campaign,
  143. insists that the negative spots Braley
    has aired against her won't have
  144. the desired effect.
  145. (Kochel speaking) "Her views are very much
    the mainstream of Iowa.
  146. Yes, she's pro-life, but many Iowans are
    pro-life. It's not the issue that she is
  147. primarily focused on.
  148. Any time you have ten million dollars
    in negative ads spent against you,
  149. it's going to make it a little more
  150. but we're going to have...
    we've been out-spent by
  151. two point two million dollars
    since the primary.
  152. I don't think it will be that way for the
    rest of the campaign."
  153. Kochel is overseeing an advertising
    strategy that pivots Ernst's message
  154. away from her most conservative views,
    to more moderate ones.
  155. (Ernst speaking) "I care about protecting
    social security for seniors,
  156. like my mom and dad."
  157. But, Democrats are betting they can
    overwhelm what they call,
  158. Ernst's 'Centra Shift,'
  159. by reminding voters of her long-held,
    right-wing positions.
  160. Retiring Senator Tom Harkin, who's raising
    money and campaigning hard for Braley,
  161. says he's counting on Iowans, wanting to
    keep a balance in their
  162. Senate representation.
  163. (Harkin speaking) "Senator Grassey,
    we don't agree philosophically.
  164. We don't agree on big issues, we don't
    vote alike on a lot of national issues,
  165. but when it comes to Iowa,
    we work together.
  166. That's why, I think, Iowans
    have benefited from that kind of balance.
  167. If Joni Ernst wins,
    that balance gets upset.
  168. If Bruce Braley's there, then they keep
    that balance,
  169. between Republicans and Democrats."
  170. But, feeling Republicans breathing down
    their necks,
  171. Democrats are doubling down on this year's
    Get Out the Vote effort,
  172. which starts in just nine days,
    with the opening of absentee voting.