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Ernst, Greenfield in dead heat for Iowa Senate seat

Iowa’s Senate race is one of the country's most expensive, as Republican incumbent Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield are locked in a dead heat. Andrew Batt of Iowa PBS explains the candidates’ closing messages as both parties battle for control of the Senate.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump spent last night rallying supporters in Iowa, a state he won by 10 points in 2016, but is now seen as a toss-up by the non-partisan Cook Political Report.

    The state also has one of the closest-watched and most expensive Senate races in the country, with more than $100 million in outside money pouring in. Recent polling shows the incumbent Republican in a dead heat.

    Andrew Batt of Iowa PBS has our report.

  • Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa:

    We're seeing more money pumped into these races this year than we have seen in presidential election cycles of the past. It is outrageous.

  • Andrew Batt:

    The tone of Senator Joni Ernst's recent campaign rally in Iowa epitomized Republican fears just three weeks before Election Day, growing concern about a blue tsunami of campaign funds aimed at Iowa's junior senator.

    Facing her first reelection since winning Iowa by more than nine percent and catapulting onto the national political stage in 2014, Ernst is framing her current race as a litmus test with rural voters.

  • Sen. Joni Ernst:

    It is important that you listen not just to people that live in the metro areas, but also hear from those in the most rural counties, like in my area down in Southwest Iowa.

    Oftentimes, they feel neglected. And most of the times, and even looking at the map where Ms. Greenfield has been and where she hasn't been, the neediest, poorest counties are those that she has not visited.

  • Theresa Greenfield:

    Nice to meet you.

  • Woman:

    Mary.

  • Theresa Greenfield:

    Hi, Mary. I love Waverly.

  • Man:

    I'm Mike.

  • Andrew Batt:

    With Senator Ernst spending crucial October campaign days in Washington for Supreme Court hearings, challenger Theresa Greenfield has made a concerted effort to blunt the Republican criticism that she spends too much time safely campaigning online during the pandemic.

  • Theresa Greenfield:

    We certainly have worked hard to get all over the state. We have been physically all over the state, but virtually all over the state, too.

  • Andrew Batt:

    And she has increased her trips into some of those rural Iowa counties previously won by both Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

  • Theresa Greenfield:

    Hey, how are you? Hello!

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Theresa Greenfield:

    Are you? Did you already get a job?

  • Andrew Batt:

    Greenfield, a former businesswoman and real estate executive, has never held elected office, but was an early fund-raising choice in 2019 by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

    Her recent third-quarter haul of more than $28 million shattered Iowa record books. On a recent swing to Waverly, Iowa, Greenfield emphasized Main Street business issues amidst a global pandemic and economic uncertainty.

  • Theresa Greenfield:

    They're in dire, dire shape.

  • Andrew Batt:

    And Greenfield is on the attack, claiming her own farm roots and working to undercut Ernst's strength in farm country by blasting the senator's work with Iowa's ethanol industry in an ongoing battle with the Trump administration's EPA and oil companies.

    The tense dynamic between Ernst and Greenfield on topics of dark money and the farm economy boiled over in their statewide debate on Iowa PBS.

  • Theresa Greenfield:

    Heck, a bushel of corn right now is about $3.30. That's going-out-of-business prices. Senator Ernst, she sold out farmers for her big oil deals.

  • Sen. Joni Ernst:

    On one hand, she's saying oh, don't — we're not going to have dark money in this campaign. She's got the other hand behind her saying, please hand me some dark money.

  • Andrew Batt:

    On commercial airwaves, the messaging contrast from the 2014

    On commercial airwaves, the messaging contrast from the 2014 Republican primary to the 2020 general election is stark.

  • Sen. Joni Ernst:

    I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm.

  • Andrew Batt:

    Six years ago, state Senator Joni Ernst promised to make 'em squeal in Washington and take aim at the Affordable Care Act.

  • Narrator:

    And once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni is going to unload.

  • Woman:

    But my sister always had my back.

  • Andrew Batt:

    This fall, her health care messaging is softer, and Ernst is promising to defend a key tenant of the ACA, leading Democrats to cry foul.

  • Sen. Joni Ernst:

    Because no American should ever be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition.

    Just because you supported one, you know, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, doesn't mean you're against protecting people with preexisting conditions.

  • Andrew Batt:

    For Greenfield, protecting the ACA and Social Security are defining themes in the final weeks.

  • Theresa Greenfield:

    And I stay focused on the issues we all care the most about. And I'll tell you what, it's health care, health care, health care, certainly this pandemic and the economic crisis.

  • Andrew Batt:

    It's a Senate seat many Iowa Republicans never thought would be a tight race to the finish line, with only weeks before Election Day.

    Reporting from Iowa for the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Andrew Batt.

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