‘So Skeptical’: As Election Nears, Iowa Senator Under Pressure For COVID-19 Remarks

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U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, appears on stage with Vice President Mike Pence in Des Moines on Aug. 13, 2020. Ernst is locked in a close race for reelection this fall against Democrat Theresa Greenfield.

Clay Masters/Iowa Public Radio


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Locked in a tight race for reelection, Ernst is counting on support from voters like Venteicher. Her senate seat is one Democrats have a close eye on. The party needs to net four seats total this November to retake the majority. They could also win a majority with a net of three seats and a victory in the race for the White House, which would allow the vice president to cast tie-breaking votes.

Ernst won her seat by nearly 9-points six years ago, but recent polls show her in a much closer contest this time around. Iowa has emerged as a COVID-19 hotspot in recent weeks, and Ernst has come under fire for repeating a debunked conspiracy theory downplaying the severity of the pandemic.

The tractor parade ended at a farm where a local Republican picnic was underway. People were enjoying the weather and feasting on picnic cuisine, but hardly anyone wore masks. The picnic came the same weekend that the White House Coronavirus Task Force sent a report to Iowa showing the state had the third-highest rate of new cases in the country.

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Sen. Joni Ernst attends a Trump Tractor Parade and Picnic Rally in Crawford County, Iowa on Sept. 6, 2020.

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Democrat Theresa Greenfield, a real estate executive from Des Moines, talks with Trent Hatlen, who farms and raises hogs near Rembrandt, Iowa, on Aug. 11, 2020.

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Kedrowski noted if President Trump were less of a polarizing figure, the race would be much sleepier — especially when it comes to the millions of dollars spent on the race from outside groups. Groups supporting Greenfield have outspent those supporting Ernst, according to Open Secrets. Meanwhile, Ernst has outperformed Greenfield in fundraising, receiving $14.4 million compared to Greenfield’s $11.6 million.

But all of this political divisiveness concerns Iowa voter Trent Hatlen. He farms and raises hogs near Rembrandt in the northwest part of the state and says Republicans and Democrats both have good ideas.

Hatlen said he voted for Trump in 2016 and Ernst in 2014. But this time, he’ll cast his ballot for Joe Biden and Greenfield (who he recently hosted at his farm).

«I think Trump has divided the country so much and got his side so hateful against ours,» Hatlen said. «I’m a working class dude; I’m not some leftist liberal out in California.»

Next month, voters in this swing state will start filling out their ballots. And just how seriously they think politicians are taking a pandemic that has killed more than 1,200 Iowans will have a factor on how those decisions are made.

  • Theresa Greenfield
  • COVID-19
  • Joni Ernst
  • Iowa

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