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Greenfield, Ernst Continue To Campaign As Many Iowans Have Already Voted Early

Clay Masters
Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst takes off from the Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines on Sunday.

Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst is fighting to hang onto her senate seat in the remaining three weeks until Election Day. Democrat Theresa Greenfield is leading in most public opinion polls and thousands of Iowans have already cast their ballots early for this race, which is one of the most expensive in the country.

Sen. Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield held a series of very different campaign events over the weekend.

Greenfield embarked on a homecoming of sorts on Saturday as she visited stops in northwestern and north-central Iowa. She grew up on a farm just over the Minnesota border. Greenfield went to Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville and she got a tour from staff of the school’s Sustainable Energy Resources & Technologies facility. She visited a farm near Buffalo Center and also stopped by a Greenhouse and floral shop in Lake Mills.

“I could have had a parking lot full of people but I don’t think that’s what you were going for,” Three Oaks Greenhouse Floral and Gift owner Steve Peterson said to Greenfield after giving her a tour of his greenhouses.

“No,” Greenfield told him with a laugh. “We don’t want a parking lot full of people, we’re doing our part to follow public health guidelines.”

Clay Masters
Small business owner Steve Peterson gives Democrat Theresa Greenfield, and her senate campaign staffers, a tour of his greenhouses in Lake Mills on Saturday.

This part of the state reliably votes Republican, but Peterson thinks Greenfield has more appeal to voters than Democrats who have run in the state in past elections.

“I think there are some people that are so sick of Washington and think she’s refreshing,” Peterson said. “We need to just start over.”

Peterson, who is a Democrat and is currently running for a seat on the Winnebago Board of Supervisors, said he sees President Trump as largely to blame for deep political divisions in the country.

Iowa is seeing some shifts in its party registration this election. For years, Iowa voters registered as “no-party” has been the largest voting bloc in the state. Now, the secretary of state’s office shows registered Republican and Democratic voters have surpassed that no-party bloc.

Iowa has already broken the record set in 2016 for absentee ballot requests. As of Friday, more than 700,000 Iowans have requested ballots and thousands have already voted.

Greenfield says she will continue to campaign up until Election Day.

“We’re going to continue campaign hard up until the polls close both connecting with people in-person like today but certainly in a safe way and then continuing to meet people on Zoom,” Greenfield said.

Clay Masters
Iowa's U.S. Sens Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, both Republicans, take questions from reporters at Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines on Sunday.

Sen. Joni Ernst also shows no sign of getting off the campaign trail.

Ernst held a much different series of campaign events over the weekend than Greenfield. The Republican was first elected in 2014 and since taking office she’s held an annual event called Roast and Ride, which features a pork roast and a motorcycle ride. The roast portion was cancelled this year.

“We’re not able to do [the hog roast] this year because of the COVID situation,” Ernst told attendees at her Des Moines stop.

Each stop included a guest Republican speaker. Like 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee in Sioux City. Former Iowa Gov. and former U-S Ambassador to China Terry Branstad spoke in Carroll. On Sunday morning in Des Moines it was Iowa’s other U.S. senator, Chuck Grassley, who addressed the attendees.

“[Sen. Ernst] is not going to owe her soul to anybody whereas look at the money, $100 million that Sen. Schumer is putting into this state to pick up one more seat so that he can majority leader and they can get their agenda done,” Grassley told the crowd.

Her two-day motorcycle ride also made stops in Cedar Rapids and Davenport.

Ernst is in a vulnerable position, says Simpson College Political Science Professor Kedron Bardwell. He points out that the candidates have reached a saturation point when it comes to spending on advertising. He also notes that senators are always vulnerable in their first re-election bid.

Clay Masters
Democrat Theresa Greenfield listens to Dan Lutat, Director of Government Affairs and Information at Iowa Lakes Community College, as he gives her a tour of the college's sustainable energy department in Estherville on Saturday.

“If she can survive this she can probably survive anything,” Bardwell says. “Think about this year; you have nationalization of the race, you’re going to have very high turnout that benefits Democrats to some extent. You’ve got this national wave that seems to be brewing against the incumbent president.”

Bardwell projects a record-breaking turnout year which almost always leads to a Democratic wave.

Greenfield and Ernst will meet for one more debate on Thursday. But polls would suggest most voters have already made up their minds and many have already cast their ballots.

Clay Masters is Iowa Public Radio’s Morning Edition host and lead political reporter.