WASHINGTON — Sen. Joni Ernst has been talking up her work in the 115th Congress as she prepares for a pivotal re-election campaign.
The Iowa Republican has been citing everything from her push for Cedar Rapids flood mitigation money to additional resources for the military.
“We’re delivering for the people of Iowa,” Ernst said.
As she seeks a second six-year term, farm states such as Iowa are feeling the sting of ongoing trade disputes, and there’s plenty of uncertainty over what the next two years will bring.
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The economy could tip into recession, for example, although Ernst says unemployment is low and wages are rising now.
Iowa could turn into a key battleground in determining who controls the Senate, but outside observers say Ernst appears well-positioned at this admittedly early point in the cycle.
She gets plenty of press attention, has started her own annual political event in the state and was recently elected to a spot in Senate Republican leadership — a role that will provide her even more visibility and party support.
On the other side of the equation, Democrats tend to have higher turnout in presidential years, as 2020 will be, and they won three of the state’s four House seats in the most recent election.
Still, Dennis Goldford, political science professor at Drake University, described that as “a yellow light, not a flashing red light” for Ernst.
The biggest question mark at this point is who will be on the other side of the ballot from her.
“She’s in a good position, but I think primarily because we have no idea who a Democratic opponent would be,” Goldford said.
Senate handicapper Jennifer Duffy at the Cook Political Report hit a similar tone, saying it’s an open question whether Ernst will face a competitive race in 2020.
“There are a lot of variables that have nothing to do with Ernst,” Duffy said. “But, Ernst doesn’t start the race with any glaring vulnerabilities.”
While Ernst has backed Trump on areas such as the tax cuts, she’s criticized him over trade policy, Duffy noted.
“Her war chest won’t scare anyone away, but Democrats are going to need a really strong candidate,” she said.
One big name that has been floated for the Democrats is Tom Vilsack, the state’s former governor, who also served as U.S. secretary of agriculture throughout President Barack Obama’s administration.
While not ruling out a Senate run, Vilsack has tried to downplay the possibility of his making such a bid.
“My only focus is on preparing the party and Democrats to do the job of listening and educating the influx of presidential candidates,” Vilsack told The World-Herald.
Ernst, meanwhile, is touting her work on a new farm bill that she helped move through Congress as a member of the committee tasked with hammering out differences between the Senate and House versions.
And she’s emphasized her advocacy for the administration to allow year-round sales of E15, saying she will hold Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler to his commitments on that front.
As for the possibility of a Vilsack challenge, Ernst previewed one possible angle of attack against the former governor by saying that he failed to speak out against new EPA water regulations while he was the secretary of agriculture.
“I think that the people of Iowa saw him as governor and they probably hope that that legacy of governor just stays where it is,” Ernst said.