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Joni Ernst, U.S. senator for Iowa, stands with one of her supporters. Mike Naig, then-Republican candidate for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, and Kim Reynolds, then-Republican candidate for Iowa governor, hosted an “Iowa GOP Victory Party” on Nov. 6 at the Hilton in downtown Des Moines.

The Iowa Senate race is in full swing. 

Although the Iowa Caucus is coming up, so is the primary for one of Iowa’s U.S. Senate seats, set for June 2, 2020.

The 2020 Iowa Senate candidates for Democrats are Michael Franken, Kimberly Graham, Theresa Greenfield, Eddie Mauro and Cal Woods. 

The Republican candidates are Joni Ernst and Paul Rieck. Joni Ernst is the current Iowa Senator; she was elected in 2014 after incumbent Democrat Tom Harkin retired, becoming the first woman from Iowa elected to the U.S. Senate. 

Due to the upcoming 2020 presidential caucus, the Senate race has been background noise, said Mack Shelley, Iowa State professor and chair of the political science department.

“Most people haven’t even started to focus on the Senate race,” Shelley said.

Since Ernst is the incumbent, she is very well known, but many of the Democrats aren't well-known, and they aren’t “household” names, Shelley said. 

Theresa Greenfield ran for Congress in 2018 along with Eddie Mauro. However, neither advanced beyond the primary election. 

“Thersa Greenfield had run out successfully before, so she’s not completely unknown,” Shelley said. 

A key point for candidates is the amount of money their campaign has raised. 

Ernst has an advantage of free media since she is already elected – she doesn’t have to buy ads because she's in the news already, Shelley said. 

“Whoever the Democratic candidate is, they will get media coverage, but not nearly as much as Ernst,” Shelley said. 

Ernst has already raised more than $6 million in campaign donations for the 2020 election, while the Democratic candidates have only raised a little over $3 million combined. 

The amount of money a candidate raises plays a big role in how they can get their name out there, Shelley said.

“Since launching this campaign in June, we’ve earned dozens of endorsements from elected officials and community leaders here in Iowa, including folks like Congressman Loebsack and Congresswoman Finkenauer and local labor unions that represent thousands of hardworking people,” Greenfield said.

Greenfield mentioned ways her campaign is reaching out to Iowans.

“Our campaign is committed to reaching folks online through social media,” Greenfield said. “We’ve had supporters contribute to the campaign from all 99 Iowa counties, which means that our message is getting to and resonating with grassroots supporters all around our state.”

As of now in the campaign, candidates are using Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, texting and other social media to get their names and message out to voters. 

“We will increase ads post-caucus, once the oxygen has returned to the state following the presidential caucus,” Franken said.

Engagement county by county is important for candidates to spread their name and messages, along with hearing issues voters are concerned about. 

“I physically have driven to 47 of the 99 counties in Iowa, and I will go to the rest by the beginning of December to talk to voters from each county,” Graham said.

Each time we go to a county or town hall, we meet friends and we meet people who believe we have a viable campaign and reflect their needs in election, Franken said.

“Every Iowan has a voice that deserves to be heard,” Ernst said.

Issues of trade and agriculture are at the forefront of this race since those are the federal policies that have had the biggest impact on Iowa, said Kelly Winfrey, assistant professor of journalism.

An issue for Ernst is her association with President Donald Trump and his policies, particularly related to the agriculture and ethanol, Shelley said. 

“Ernst will have to defend and distance herself from Trump and his policies against Iowa farmers,” Shelley said.   

Through Ernst’s votes in the Senate, she continues to support a president that has shown he is no friend of Iowa farmers, Graham said. 

Many candidates have said issues of education, climate crisis and healthcare are crucial to their campaign, along with agriculture and trade. 

“It’s appalling that in a nation this wealthy, that even one person would have to go bankrupt because of medical debt,” Graham said. 

A main goal is to bring Iowa industry to a point where we can pivot off of the great education we have and the renewable natural resources making us a destination of industry and of high quality of life, Franken said.  

Each year, Iowa is hit harder by climate change. By investing in clean energy industry and rebuilding efficient and resilient infrastructures, we will create opportunity across Iowa to ensure our state is a leader in taking on this crisis, Greenfield said.  

“I am doing this for people now, but I am also doing this for younger people and people who aren’t even here yet,” Graham said. 

At the Ernst re-election campaign kick-off, she said there’s more work to be done to push back on the “coastal liberal insanity“ to stand up for Iowans. 

As of right now, the race looks to be female-female, Winfrey said. 

“The race will be interesting since it may be a female-female race, and we haven’t had a whole lot of those, Iowa in particular, and at the federal level,” Winfrey said. 

If there was to be a female-female race, it would be unique because gender will not be the central theme, Winfrey said. 

“Voter turnout is critical for competitiveness; if there was a surge in turn out for younger voters, that would probably make it more competitive,” Shelley said. 

Many students on campus don’t even know this race is going on, which makes it more difficult for candidates to run competitively.

“The focus on campuses is to get absentee ballots before students leave in May,” Graham said.

Since the primary election is June 2, 2020, candidates are focusing on college campuses early on in the race. 

“We need votes, we need people; we hope to inspire young people to vote,” Graham said.

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