Democrats fight for chance to take on GOP Sen. Ernst


Associated Press

DES MOINES — Four relatively unknown Iowa Democrats are competing in a primary Tuesday to take on Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, an endeavor viewed as a long shot when better-known prospects last year took a pass on running.

But Ernst’s slip in approval and the rallying of Iowa and national Democrats, and especially their money, behind one of the four has the race receiving a second look.

For now, Ernst still is in a strong position heading into the fall. But as Democrats are increasingly bullish about their prospects in places such as Arizona and Colorado, the Iowa race is getting renewed attention as a potential battleground that could help the party regain the Senate majority.

“I can’t say she’s in a shaky position,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Iowa-based Selzer & Co., which conducted polling of the race. “But there were enough signals … to suggest that the ground that she stands on is not exactly firm.”

Much of the focus heading into Tuesday’s primary is on Theresa Greenfield, the 55-year-old president of a Des Moines real estate and development company. She has impressed leading Democrats in Iowa and Washington with a compelling life story, a childhood spent on a farm and, perhaps most notably, her skill at raising money.

Having raised more than $7 million since entering the race last year, Greenfield has taken in at least $5 million more than each of her three Democratic opponents.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, was quick to get behind Greenfield and by February had directed millions in super PAC spending against Ernst.

Since then, the group has spent $8.5 million promoting Greenfield and attacking Ernst, with help last year from an Iowa-based, anti-Ernst super PAC and some ad spending from former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer’s group, Need to Impeach.

Although Ernst has raised more than $12 million in total, she had an edge of less than $2.5 million over Greenfield as of mid-May, a thin advantage for an incumbent member of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s leadership team.

Greenfield’s fundraising prowess reflects a broad array of support among Iowa Democrats.

Among those rallying behind Greenfield are establishment figures such as centrist Christie Vilsack, a former Iowa first lady, and liberals including U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, as well as often-competing labor groups such as the Iowa Federation of Labor and the Iowa council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

That’s after better-known party figures — former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and freshman Rep. Cindy Axne, for example — turned down overtures from party leaders to consider challenging Ernst.

Outwardly friendly, with a wholesome air, Greenfield talks of the farm where she grew up and a father whom she quotes saying, “There are no boy jobs, no girl jobs. There’s just jobs that need to get done.”

Greenfield has taken moderate positions on key issues, including siding with those who would add a public option to the Affordable Care Act as opposed to scrapping the 2010 law for the more progressive “Medicare for All.”