Senate race between Joni Ernst, Theresa Greenfield remains a dead heat

By: - October 23, 2020 3:14 pm

The U.S. Capitol building. (Photo by Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA)

It’s a race politicos and analysts are watching nationwide.

For months, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield have remained in a dead heat, according to national and local polls, as they exchange sharp words and bombard the state’s airwaves to win Iowa’s Senate seat.

Ernst, who made history in 2014 as the first-ever Iowa woman elected into Congress, is asking Iowans to vote her in again under President Donald Trump.

Theresa Greenfield, a businesswoman, is part of a wave of Democratic challengers who want to shift their Senate seats from red to blue.

Millions have been spent on advertising, as the Senate race remains one of the most expensive in the nation, according to NBC News. 

The Senate race is viewed as one of the most competitive in the country and is rated as a toss-up, according to Cook Political Report. Most polls in the race taken this month have been neck-and-neck.  The New York Times/Siena College poll of Iowa likely voters taken Oct. 18-20, showed Ernst with just a 1-point lead over Greenfield.

Though the race is competitive, the gender divide is wide between the two candidates. Greenfield leads among most demographics of Iowa women, including independent women, according to the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll taken in mid-September.

Female voters could make a difference in Iowa’s Senate race, particularly as independents and more moderate Republican women turn away from the party because of “antipathy” towards President Donald Trump, according to Politico.

In the Iowa Poll, the race between Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Trump is also close, though the former vice president led by 20 points among women.

During an interview with Iowa Capital Dispatch, Ernst said she isn’t concerned about the gender disparity in the numbers and said she separates herself from Trump and Greenfield by basing her stances on “what I’m hearing from Iowans.”

“I don’t care if they’re women, they’re men,” Ernst said. “I’m working for all Iowans.”

But when it comes to traditional campaigning, Ernst and Greenfield’s campaigns have had to stray away from the typically packed schedule of handshakes and town halls, to one that prefers Zoom calls and smaller gatherings.

Ernst said this campaign year, “has been hard for me,” though she said she’s still completed the Iowa tradition of the “full Grassley” and visited all 99 counties.

“I enjoy being out on the campaign trail and meeting with as many Iowans as possible,” Ernst said. “I just don’t shake as many hands and don’t give as many hugs as I used to and I’m trying to be as safe and responsible as possible.”

Ernst questioned Greenfield’s commitment to meeting with all Iowans statewide, noting she hasn’t visited all of the state’s counties, during their first debate on Iowa Press.

During an interview with Iowa Capital Dispatch, Greenfield said she’s held over 300 campaign events across the state and said she’s been meeting with constituents physically and virtually.

“It’s one of my favorite things to do, is criss-cross the state and go out and meet people,” Greenfield said. “But we’re also campaigning in the time of COVID and lots and lots of Iowans are staying home.”

With several other Republicans also in highly-competitive races, the New York Times reported that Ernst’s ability to retain her seat is seen as “vital to her party’s hopes of retaining its majority in the Senate.”

Meet the candidates

Joni Ernst

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during a video her office produced about her tele-town hall on May 20, 2020.

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst was elected into Congress in 2014 following the retirement of former Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. Ernst, 50, is from Red Oak, Iowa, and was born and raised on a farm in Montgomery County. She attended Iowa State University and joined the college’s ROTC program.

After graduating, she joined the U.S. Army Reserves and in 2003, served as a company commander in Kuwait and Iraq. She retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard after 23 years of military service.

Ernst ran and served as Montgomery County auditor from 2005 to 2011 and was later elected into the Iowa State Senate.

In divorce filings and in her book, Ernst said she was physically abused by her ex-husband, who subjected her to mental and verbal abuse.


  • Improving the economy for rural Iowa by protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard and eliminating environmental regulations like the Waters of the United States rule.
  • Improving services for veterans by streamlining the Veterans Affairs benefit system and improving job and training programs for returning military members.
  • Reducing the national debt and taxes by supporting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and auditing the Department of Defense.

(Source:  Ernst’s campaign website)

Theresa Greenfield

Theresa Greenfield is a Democrat running for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat. (Photo submitted by Theresa Greenfield campaign)

Theresa Greenfield grew up on a farm in Bricelyn, Minnesota, and later attended Iowa Lakes Community College and Iowa State University before graduating from Minnesota State University, according to a biography on Emily’s List.

While she was pregnant with their second son, Greenfield’s first-husband, Rod, died in a workplace accident when she was 24. She later went on to work as an urban planner and was the president of Colby Interests, a family-owned real-estate business based in Windsor Heights.

Greenfield remarried and now has four grown children

She initially ran for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, but was forced to drop out of the Democratic primary after her campaign manager admitted he forged signatures, according to the Des Moines Register.


  • Preserving Social Security and opposing privatization of the program
  • Strengthening the Affordable Care Act and creating a public health insurance option
  • Replace the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

Fundraising from start of election cycle to Sept. 30

In total this campaign cycle, Greenfield raised $40.4 million to Ernst’s $22.2 million. She has spent $30.2 million and ended September with $9.5 million cash on hand.

Ernst spent $18 million and closed the third quarter with $4.3 million cash on hand.

(Source: Federal Election Commission)


Joni Ernst: National Federation of Independent Businesses, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau PAC, President Donald Trump, National Right to Life Committee

Theresa Greenfield: AFSCME Council 61, Iowa AFL-CIO, End Citizens United, Emily’s List, former President Barack Obama


Democrats spent $90.8 million on TV, radio and online ads as of September, according to Advertising Analytics

Republicans spent $64.7 million on TV, radio and online ads, according to Advertising Analytics


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.