U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst wins re-election campaign

Sen. Joni Ernst celebrates her re-election at the Iowa GOP's election-night party in Des Moines on Nov. 3, 2020. (Screen shot from event livestream)

Republican Joni Ernst won her re-election to the U.S. Senate, claiming victory in one of the tightest and heavily-funded races in the country. 

Ernst won with a strong margin, defeating Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.

The big-money battle between Ernst and Greenfield is the second most expensive U.S. Senate race in U.S. history, according to Advertising Analytics. Political ads and mailers blanketed the state, trying to influence Iowans leading up to the Nov. 3 election.

During her speech, Ernst held up her phone and livestreamed her victory for her daughter, Libby.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks Oct. 13, 2020, during the confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. (Screen shot from live stream)

“Women can take a risk. Women can serve in uniform. We can be leaders and we can challenge the status quo,” Ernst said. “There aren’t any barriers to our success out there. As long as we have the courage we can push through.”

Ernst’s victory is a pivotal win for Senate Republicans who are trying to keep the chamber red. She ran on promoting policies that support rural Iowa and its farmers who have struggled from years of trade wars and low commodity prices.

Ernst frequently shared stories of hardship while growing up on her family’s farm near Red Oak and understanding the needs of rural Iowans.

She condemned environmental regulations put in place by the Obama administration and praised President Donald Trump for his work on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

During her victory speech at the Des Moines Mariott Downtown, Ernst said it’s been a difficult year and election, but she hopes people will put partisanship aside to move the country forward.

“The challenges that we face, whether it’s from Covid to the economic recovery ahead of us, they’re too great for any individual to do alone,” Ernst said.

Close association with President Donald Trump helps with core voters

Ernst’s close associations with the president, including praising him for his support after the derecho, helped Ernst gain crucial independent voters in the last stretch of the campaign.

In the last Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, Ernst led with male voters, 56% to 33%, according to the poll. She also led with other typical Trump voters, including white men who do not have a college degree, evangelicals and rural voters.

Ernst also had an 8-point edge over Greenfield with independent voters, earning 45% of them to Greenfield’s 37%.  Back in September, Greenfield held a 15% advantage over Ernst with independent voters, according to the poll. 

Democrat Theresa Greenfield participates in a U.S. Senate candidates’ debate Oct. 3, 2020 on WHO TV. (Screen shot from debate livestream)

Some of the negative ads against Greenfield tried to tie her to far-left leaning policies, such as the Green New Deal and single-payer healthcare, which Greenfield has said she doesn’t support.

Republicans also targeted Greenfield’s real estate business and said she was a failed businesswoman.

During her concession speech at the Renaissance Des Moines Savery Hotel, Greenfield said she called Ernst on the phone.

“We always knew this race was going to be one of the closest in the country,” Greenfield said. “I wanted to make sure to congratulate her for her part.”

Linh Ta
Reporter Linh Ta comes to Iowa Capital Dispatch from the Des Moines Register, where she covered trending news, public safety and the suburbs. Most recently, she has covered retail business and followed both national and local trends to provide insight about the issues that matter the most to Iowans. Beyond traditional journalism, Ta has worked as a speech coach with the Des Moines Storytellers Project with the goal of sharing the diverse perspectives of Iowans from all walks of life. She is the 2019 winner of the Young Iowa Journalist Award and the winner of an Iowa Broadcast News Award. Email her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @linhmaita.