Ernst defends Iowa Senate seat for GOP

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GOP Sen. Joni Ernst was reelected in Iowa, defeating Democrat Theresa Greenfield in one of the most expensive and competitive Senate races in the country.

Ernst, a member of GOP leadership, was one of the highest profile senators up for reelection this year, though she was seeking just her second term. She was not considered among the most vulnerable senators at the beginning of the election year, particularly after Donald Trump’s decisive Iowa victory in 2016. Iowa hasn’t booted a sitting senator out of office since 1984.

Greenfield entered the race with a limited political profile after she was forced to cut short her first bid for office — a 2018 House race — after her campaign manager forged signatures to get on the ballot without Greenfield’s knowledge. But Greenfield quickly earned endorsements from officials in Washington and Iowa to become the party favorite in the race.

Greenfield navigated a competitive Democratic primary with a boost from outside groups, and the race between her and Ernst evolved into a dead heat through the summer and fall.

Ernst won her first race in part with a famous ad promising to make Washington “squeal.” Six years later, Democrats tried to tie her to President Donald Trump and Washington in an effort to turn her out of office. Ernst also faced a steady stream of spending against her, with most of the Democratic ads either linking her to the president, highlighting her votes against the Affordable Care Act or accusing her of having lost her outsider edge in Washington.

The two candidates also competed for rural voters, with both emphasizing their upbringing on family farms. For Ernst, it was an effort to drive up margins to offset Democratic gains in the suburbs, while Greenfield was trying to limit GOP gains in rural territory. Greenfield focused heavily on her background, including the death of her first husband, a union electrician, and her reliance on Social Security and union benefits as a single mother at the time.

Republicans spent hefty sums on TV ads tearing down that image, criticizing Greenfield’s role as a real estate developer and arguing she harmed local small businesses.

Ernst, like other Republicans, struggled to raise money to compete with Greenfield, who became one of her party’s most successful small-dollar fundraisers despite starting the race with little infrastructure. Greenfield raised $47.5 million through October, compared with $24.1 million for Ernst.

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