Tea Party, Establishment unite behind Ernst in Iowa
A highly unusual circumstance in Iowa as both the Tea Party and the Establishment have agreed on a candidate to take on the likely Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce Braley. State senator Joni Ernst, a National Guard Lt. Colonel, has received endorsements from both Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney as the GOP coalesces behind a very winnable candidate.
The oft-warring establishment and Tea Party wings of the party are on the same side ahead of Tuesday’s primary election, rallying behind Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R).
And it’s that near-unanimous chorus by Republicans from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney that could boost the Iowa National Guard lieutenant colonel over a trio of primary opponents to win the GOP nod for retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) seat. With clever campaign ads and endorsements, Ernst is in the driver’s seat and could pull the 35 percent of the vote needed to win the nomination outright and avoid a party convention.
Recent polls show she’s closing in on that mark with a comfortable lead over big-spending businessman Mark Jacobs, former conservative radio host Sam Clovis and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker. The winner will face Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) this fall in what could be a pivotal race for Senate control.
“There’s no question Joni is cresting. I think she’s on pace to get to 39 or 40 percent,” said Jeff Boeyink, a former senior adviser to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and an Ernst supporter. “The full spectrum of endorsements she’s received is something we haven’t see here for quite some time.”
Just two months ago, Ernst was the underdog against Jacobs, and Braley looked to have the clear edge in the general election. But her first ad — and a major gaffe from Braley — turned the race on its head.
Braley was caught on video at a fundraiser with Texas trial lawyers deriding Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as a “farmer from Iowa” who was less qualified than him to be on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The recording set off a furor that forced Braley to apologize and run ads to shore up his standing with farmers and other blue-collar workers.
It was serendipitous timing for Ernst, who launched her first TV spot the next day about growing up “castrating hogs on an Iowa farm,” promising to “make ’em squeal” if she gets to Washington. While the ad was mocked by late-night TV hosts, it played well with Iowa conservatives and helped her steal the spotlight, just as national Republicans started paying attention to the race.
I can't think of another race in the country where this kind of consensus has emerged. Certainly not where the Chamber and the Senate Conservative Fund are both running ads on a candidate's behalf.
An Iraq War vet, Ernst has a compelling persoinal narrative compared to trial lawyer Braley. But Braley will have more money and Ernst is something of a novice when it comes to big campaigns. The Democrats are trying to make a big deal about the Sarah Palin endorsement, but Ernst also has the backing of popular Governor Terry Branstad who is working behind the scenes to engineer an Ernst victory if she gets less than 35% of the vote in the primary next week.
Coming up short of the 35% threshold would necessitate the choice of candidate being made by the party convention later this summer. Branstad has been trying to smooth her path to a convention nomination by stacking his supporters in delegate slots. It helps to have a powerful ally in addition to endorsements by popular Republicans.
All in all, the GOP couldn't have it any better in Iowa; a united party with an attractive candidate going against a flawed Democrat.