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Ernst Struggles in Iowa as Republicans Battle to Hold Senate Amid Trump’s Woes

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — The Toby Keith music blared from loudspeakers as Senator Joni Ernst, carrying an power drink, labored a crowd of bikers on this city close to the Nebraska border, shaking arms and giving out hugs.

Human-size Trump indicators stood within the Harley-Davidson retailer car parking zone beneath a vivid, nearly cyan blue sky, however there was a observe of gloom within the voices of some supporters of Ms. Ernst, a Republican. One quantity was on their minds: $100 million.

That’s how a lot allies of her Democratic rival, the businesswoman Theresa Greenfield, are pumping into the costliest Senate race Iowa has ever seen. Attack advertisements bombarding the airwaves — throughout school soccer video games and conservative discuss radio reveals — paint the senator as a villain intent on stripping away Social Security and medical advantages for residents.

Six years after storming into workplace as maybe the highest-profile member of a vaunted class that took again Republican management of the Senate, Ms. Ernst, 50, finds herself in a troublesome re-election race that’s emblematic of her celebration’s wrestle to maintain the Senate majority with a weakened President Trump on the high of the ticket.

Ms. Ernst, who has tightly embraced the president at the same time as his standing has fallen, has trailed Ms. Greenfield in each ballot for the previous month, and in a recent New York Times-Siena poll, as many Iowans had a unfavourable view of her as those that had a constructive one. The survey underscored a bitter actuality for the primary girl to signify Iowa in Congress: Mr. Trump’s troubles, notably with feminine voters, are doing actual injury to Republicans down the poll.

The celebration holds a 53-to-47 benefit within the Senate, however as many as eight of its incumbents are in jeopardy of shedding in hotly contested races. That contains different stars of the category of 2014 as soon as believed to be a part of a promising new era of Republicans, together with Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Steve Daines of Montana, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and David Perdue of Georgia.

Ms. Ernst is broadly seen as a bellwether candidate, who will rise or fall together with her celebration, and with Mr. Trump. Almost nobody believes Republicans can maintain onto management of the Senate if Ms. Ernst loses.

The president gained Iowa by greater than 9 proportion factors in 2016, however he now trails or is statistically tied in state polls with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee.

While Ms. Ernst has sometimes parted methods from the president — she opposed Mr. Trump’s tariffs, as an illustration, and supported eradicating the names of Confederate army leaders from army bases — she has extra usually embraced him.

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At the Harley-Davidson occasion in Sioux City, Ms. Ernst — who gave a speech on the Republican National Convention this 12 months and was as soon as thought-about a possible operating mate for Mr. Trump — urged her supporters to attract a “red line in the sand” towards encroaching liberalism by backing the president, echoing his marketing campaign message.

Later, talking to reporters, Ms. Ernst mentioned she didn’t consider Mr. Trump’s declining reputation in Iowa would damage her, and argued he may nonetheless win over the suburban girls who’ve been turning towards him. But she hastened so as to add that she was “running my own campaign” and even advised a lot of Iowans would possibly cross celebration traces to vote for each Mr. Biden and her.

“There may be issues where people will disagree with the president, but they’ll be supportive of me,” Ms. Ernst mentioned. “So it’s really up to those Iowans to go out and make that decision, but I hope they do recognize that Iowa is where I was born and raised and Iowans are the people that I care about.”

Karen M. Kedrowski, a political-science professor at Iowa State University and the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, mentioned in some components of the state, Mr. Trump had grown “toxic,” which may have an effect on Republicans who had not distanced themselves sufficient from him.

“Their fates are tied together,” Ms. Kedrowski mentioned of Ms. Ernst and Mr. Trump. “There’s such dissatisfaction with the Trump administration, it’s spilling over to harm Republicans down-ballot.”

Ms. Ernst entered the Senate on the power of a buzzworthy “Make ‘Em Squeal” advert, pledging to chop wasteful spending simply as she had castrated pigs on her household farm. She quickly grew to become the one girl on Senator Mitch McConnell’s management workforce, and spoke out powerfully about surviving rape and home abuse.

But for Ms. Ernst, Ms. Greenfield presents a a lot steeper problem than did Bruce Braley, a gaffe-prone former congressman whom she simply defeated by greater than eight proportion factors six years in the past.

With a biography that resonates with Iowans, Ms. Greenfield has proved a disciplined messenger, hammering Ms. Ernst on pocketbook points like well being care, whereas stressing her personal background as a army mom and a “scrappy farm kid” who grew up in close by southern Minnesota.

She wears flannel shirts in her tv advertisements. In entrance of her Des Moines house sit logs of firewood Ms. Greenfield says she chops herself. “I grew up pretty dang scrappy, I got to tell you,” she likes to say.

Her farm roots have been on show throughout a televised debate Thursday night time when she appropriately answered a query in regards to the worth of corn within the state, whereas Ms. Ernst was stumped by a follow-up in regards to the worth of soybeans.

“You grew up on a farm,” Ron Steele, a Waterloo information anchor who was a moderator of the talk, advised Ms. Ernst. “You should know this.”

While Ms. Ernst was driving her motorbike throughout the state final weekend, Ms. Greenfield was on the Smith household farm in Buffalo Center close to Iowa’s northern border, stepping by means of contemporary pig manure and swatting bugs away from her neck as she talked about well being care.

“This is total bias, but she’s a farm girl,” mentioned Jody Smith, 65, a farmer, explaining why she determined to assist Ms. Greenfield. “I know that she has learned to work hard. She can stand up to anyone in Washington.”

Ms. Greenfield has run a cautious race, presenting herself as a centrist. She doesn’t denigrate Mr. Trump’s supporters and criticizes the Democratic Party for not focusing sufficient on neighborhood faculties.

She additionally has her personal compelling story of overcoming private tragedy. Her first husband died in a office accident when she was 24 and pregnant with their second little one. The household survived on Social Security funds.

“Becoming a young widow changed my life,” she mentioned. “I didn’t have any way to pay the bills.”

With a unified Democratic message coming from celebration leaders in Washington, Ms. Greenfield has stayed centered on the difficulty of well being care, hitting Ms. Ernst repeatedly on her votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and her embrace of a false claim stemming from a conspiracy idea that the coronavirus demise toll was being inflated.

Political motion committees linked to Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority chief, have pumped tens of thousands and thousands of {dollars} into the race, taking goal at Ms. Ernst.

“Senator Ernst can’t be trusted on health care,” Ms. Greenfield says, calling it the highest situation within the race.

Ms. Ernst has scrambled to reply. When Mr. Schumer forced a recent vote to bar the Trump administration from arguing to overturn the well being care regulation, Ms. Ernst broke together with her celebration to vote with the Democrats. And she apologized repeatedly for her remark questioning the coronavirus demise toll.

“I am so sorry that my words may have offended you,” Ms. Ernst mentioned throughout a latest debate, addressing well being care staff. “You are tremendous workers. You are essential workers.”

In an try and salvage the seat, Republicans’ Senate marketing campaign arm has begun operating its personal assault advertisements towards Ms. Greenfield’s enterprise report, accusing her of “shoddy workmanship” and “breach of contract” — fees the actual property developer disputes.

Ms. Ernst has additionally emphasised Ms. Greenfield’s failed foray into politics in 2018, when she briefly ran for Congress however ended her bid after her former marketing campaign supervisor admitted to forging signatures on petition paperwork.

Some Iowans mentioned they have been turned off by the flood of unfavourable advertisements towards Ms. Ernst.

“The things that are being advertised against her, it makes me want to slap them,” mentioned Denny Gergen, 69, a grain and soybean farmer from northwest Iowa and one of many bikers who turned out to assist Ms. Ernst. “Yeah, I know, hey, it’s politics but this is just getting dirty.”

Ms. Ernst noticed hope in Mr. Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, arguing that the affirmation struggle would energize conservatives and drive them to the polls to assist her. She returned to Washington from the marketing campaign path to take part within the hearings, the place she emphasised Judge Barrett’s standing as a robust conservative girl.

But Ms. Ernst additionally tried to strike a reasonable tone when discussing the results of elevating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, stating that she had as soon as upheld a protest buffer zone round abortion clinics.

“I think the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned is very minimal,” Ms. Ernst mentioned, referring the landmark determination that established federal abortion rights. “I don’t see that happening.”

In Iowa on her motorbike tour, Ms. Ernst issued a message that echoed that of Mr. Trump, as she warned voters of a grim future ought to Ms. Greenfield defeat her and Democrats take management of the Senate. A Democratic victory, she mentioned throughout a cease in Des Moines, would imply a takeover of the United States by “extreme liberal interests,” “extreme environmentalists” and “extreme abortionists.”

“All of those things lead us on an ugly path towards socialism,” Ms. Ernst mentioned.

Then she advised the bikers hanging on her each phrase to get able to journey. “We’re going to show the state of Iowa that we still stand behind President Trump,” she mentioned. “We stand and are going to hold this red line in the United States Senate.”

With that, Ms. Ernst pulled her hair again right into a ponytail, hopped on her Harley, revved the engine and took off, main a small military of bikers east away from town, American flags flying from the again of their bikes, many adorned in daring letters: “T-R-U-M-P.”

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