March 31, 2015

Ernst to deliver GOP response to Obama’s State of the Union address


Joni Ernst

Iowa’s rookie U.S. Senator is getting a prime speaking slot next week. Republican congressional leaders have picked Iowa Senator Joni Ernst to deliver the Republican response to President Obama’s “State of the Union” address next Tuesday.

This is the first time GOP leaders have asked a first-year senator to speak in the prime time slot. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell says Ernst understands that middle-class Americans want Congress “to get refocused on their concerns.”

Ernst released a written statement, saying congress must “implement real solutions” that “grow a vibrant economy…and ensure the federal government beings to run more effectively and efficiently.”

The televised response to the president’s annual “State of the Union” speech is carefully crafted and has lately been used by whichever party does not hold the White House as a forum to showcase its future leaders. Senator Marco Rubio and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have both delivered the Republican response during President Obama’s presidency and both are now considered possible presidential candidates in 2016.

In the spring of 2014 Ernst captured the attention of the nation’s political class with a campaign ad touting her hog castration skills.  She went on to win a five-person contest for the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination in June, then she soundly beat Democrat Bruce Braley to win the U.S. Senate seat Democrat Tom Harkin had held for 30 years.

Senator Grassley to vote for Keystone pipeline


The U.S. Senate will vote today on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley says he’ll be voting today in favor of construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline that will run from the oil sands in Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Vital sections of the pipeline through Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana have been on hold, awaiting approval, since 2008. Grassley, a Republican, says the issue deserves action that’s long overdue.

“It would transport underground rather than posing greater risk to the public, traffic and environmental safety that happens when you ship by railroad,” Grassley says. “We’ve had two or three fairly destructive and with many casualties, in the case of Canada, of these sort of rail accidents.”

Opponents fear the pipeline would cause irreparable harm to the environment should there be a leak, but Grassley says those concerns are overblown. “The State Department released its analysis this year concluding this pipeline would not bear significant environmental impact and would provide the safest way to transport oil,” Grassley says. “It also found that rejection of the pipeline would not affect Canada’s decision to develop their own oil resources.”

The U.S. House passed the measure approving the pipeline last week though if the Senate should okay the measure, it’s unclear how President Obama will react. Grassley says the pipeline would help strengthen North American oil production. “The Keystone XL pipeline is an opportunity to advance U.S. energy security with a partnership with one

Senator Chuck Grassley.

Senator Chuck Grassley.

of our most stable trading partners in the world,” Grassley says. “Wouldn’t you rather get your oil from Canada than from the volatile Middle East?”

TransCanada has applied for a presidential permit to build the Keystone X-L pipeline from western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska. It would connect with the southern portion of the pipeline, which is operating from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries along the Gulf Coast in Texas. The northern portion of Keystone XL is estimated to cost $5.4 billion. It would carry 830,000 barrels of oil sands crude -daily- from Canada to the refineries.

Iowa Congressmen, Tom Latham, Steve King — both Republicans — voted for the pipeline in the U.S. House, as did Democrat Dave Loebsack. Democrat Bruce Braley voted against it.


An ‘interesting’ question: Should Braley have invited Obama to campaign in Iowa?

A key advisor on Bruce Braley’s U.S. Senate campaign says it may have been a mistake not to invite President Obama to Iowa to campaign for Braley. Jeff Link, a Des Moines-based political consultant, is also one of Braley’s closest friends.

“It’s an interesting question,” Link says. “In 1994, which was the last time Democrats got shellacked like this, I worked for a congressman in northeast Ohio who invited Bill Clinton to his district in Akron and he ended up being the only guy who survived the whipping Democrats took in Ohio. I honestly, I’m not sure if it would have helped.”

Link says because Braley did not face a competitive primary, Braley also lost an opportunity to define himself early in the race.

David Kochel, a Des Moines-based political consultant, advised Republican Joni Ernst’s campaign. He says the “starting gate” for Ernst’s meteoric rise was the ad in which she talked about castrating hogs, and making ‘em squeal in Washington.

“I don’t think you can run that ad in any other statel. You can run it here, though, because while not all of us are farmers, all of us know a farmer and all of us are sort of connected to that culture,” Kochel says. “Also, it was very authentic to her.”

But Kochel says Ernst ultimately won because she was able to effectively give Iowans a reason to want to change direction in Washington, D.C.

Kochel and Link made their comments this weekend during a joint appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program..


Iowa Democratic Party chair says, of 2014’s message, ‘We got it, loud & clear’

Iowa Democratic Party chair Scott Brennanan (L) with DNC chair Wasserman Schultz.

Iowa Democratic Party chair Scott Brennanan with DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (file photo)

A year ago, Iowa Democrats were confident Bruce Braley would win Tom Harkin’s U.S. Senate seat and that the seat Braley was leaving to run for the Senate would stay in Democratic hands. Now, Democrats are assessing the Republican tide that swept through Iowa on Election Night and Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scott Brennan is blunt.

“We got it, loud and clear, that we need to do a better job of engaging folks and making them understand why they should have voted for our Democratic candidates,” Brennan told Radio Iowa during an interview on Thursday.

University of Northern Iowa political science professor Christopher Larimer said despite the much-touted voter targeting that worked for President Obama here in 2012, the 2014 Iowa electorate looked almost the same as it did in 2010.

“2010, I think, should have made the Democrats very anxious going forward to 2014 about things they need to do to get different people to show up and they apparently didn’t get the memo or were just simply ineffective in what they were trying to do to get people out,” Larimer said.

Voter turnout in Iowa in 2014 was slightly lower than in 2010.

“So you have $80-plus million being spent on the senate election and you still have, actually, fewer people showing up at the polls,” Larimer said.

Bruce Nesmith, a political science professor at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, said Democrats failed to reassure voters who are anxious about the economy.

“What Democrats lacked this year was a message other than ‘Republicans are evil. Don’t vote for them,'” Nesmith told Radio Iowa on Thursday.

Twenty-two-year-old Jane Lindeman is a senior at Coe College who’s majoring in political science and, while she voted, most of her fellow students didn’t. Only 12 percent of those who voted in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race were below the age of 30.

“The worst part is the outcome of the election isn’t because of the people who chose to vote,” Lindeman said. “It’s because of the people who chose to stay home and I feel that things could have gone a lot differently if especially young people and people who don’t normally go out to the polls had done their civic duty and voted.”

Exit polls show 37 percent of those who voted in Iowa’s Senate race were Republicans, just under a third were Democrats and Senator-elect Joni Ernst, the Republican candidate, decisively won the battle for independents. Brennan, the Iowa Democratic Party chairman, said managers of the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts are analyzing the election data.

“They’ll be, in the next couple of days, producing sort of exit memos with what they believe worked, what didn’t work and then we’ll start the hard process of assessing,” Brennan said. “Although it seems to me that there was a prevailing national mood that was not in our favor at least as evidenced by the election returns everywhere.”

Brennan was drafted to be the party’s interim chairman in the summer of 2013 and he stayed on through the election. He does not plan to stay in the job for the next election, but there’s no date yet set for a party leadership election.

“It needs to be a thoughtful process as to what we’re going to do because the most important thing now is to reassess and start building for 2016 and actually making sure we put in fantastic Caucuses,” Brennan said.

If Democrats are successful in 2016 in sending another Democrat to the White House, Larimer suggested 2018 will be just as difficult for Democrats if they don’t figure out how to turnout voters when there’s no presidential campaign as motivation.

“Midterm elections are always tough for Democrats, but when you have a midterm election with a Democratic president it can be particularly tough given the electorate if presidential approval is down,” Larimer said. “They need to figure out a way to change the electorate for a midterm election or this pattern is just going to continue.”

Sixty-five percent of the Iowans who voted in the 2014 election said the country is “seriously off on the wrong track” and a whopping 79 percent said they are worried about what may happen to the economy in 2015.

Results of Iowa’s 2014 Election: Ernst, Branstad, incumbents win (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad and supporters on election night.

Governor Terry Branstad and supporters on election night.

Over 1.1 million Iowans voted in the 2014 General Election. Read more about the turn-out here.

In Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, Republican Joni Ernst defeated Democrat Bruce Braley by 8.5 points.  Hear Ernst’s Election Night speech here.  Listen to Braley’s remarks to supporters here.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad easily won reelection to a sixth term and will become the nation’s longest-serving governor ever.  Listen to Branstad’s victory speech.  Jack Hatch, the Democrat who challenged Branstad’s bid for reelection, spoke to supporters shortly after the polls closed.

Republicans won three of Iowa’s four congressional seats.  Congressmen Steve King and Dave Loeback, as well as Congressmen-elect David Young and Rod Blum, all spoke with Radio Iowa on Election Night to talk about their victories. Jim Mowrer, the Democrat who ran against Steve King, addressed speculation that he may run against U.S. Senate Chuck Grassley in 2016.  Read about the congressional races here.

Staci Appel talks with supporters after losing her race for the U.S. House.

Staci Appel talks with supporters after losing her race for the U.S. House.

Incumbents won in each of the races for state ag secretary, state treasurer, state attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state.  Read more about those results here, along with the news that Democrats held onto their slim two-seat edge in the Iowa Senate, while Republicans gained four seats in the Iowa House to up their majority to 57 of the 100 seats there.

(Reporting by the Radio Iowa news team, including Matt Kelley, who anchored Radio Iowa’s Election Night reports; Dar Danielson at Iowa GOP Election Night Headquarters; Pat Curtis at Iowa Democratic Party Election Night Headquarters; with editing and additional reporting from Todd Kimm and O. Kay Henderson in the newsroom.)

Ernst makes history, winning race for U.S. Senate (Audio)


Joni Ernst speaks to supporters after becoming the first woman to win a U.S. Senate race in Iowa.

It was an historic win in the race for the U.S. Senate in Iowa Tuesday. Republican Joni Ernst of Red Oak defeated Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley of Waterloo to become the first Iowa woman elected senator. “Oh my goodness, thank you Iowa,” Ernst said in greeting her supporters at Republican election headquarters in West Des Moines.

It was a hard-fought race with millions of dollars spent and Ernst acknowledge Braley’s effort. “I congratulated him on running a phenomenal campaign. He was a worthy opponent, he was a worthy opponent and he was willing to sacrifice for what he thought was right. We didn’t agree on much,” Ernst said and the crowd laughed. “But I do admire anyone who is willing to stand up and fight for what they believe in.” She also told those who voted for Braley that she would work to earn their trust.

Ernst came out of a crowded field in the Republican primary after running an add that talked about castrating pigs. A Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa National Guard and State Senator, she kept the momentum going through election day. “We’ll Iowa, well Iowa, we did it,” Ernst said to cheers.


Supporters of Republican Joni Ernst hold up signs as they wait for her victor speech.

Ernst said there is a lot more work ahead when she goes to Washington. “ISIS isn’t just going to go away. The almost 18-trillion dollars of national debt is not just going to go away. Our economic struggles aren’t just going to go away. And our problems aren’t just going to go away on our own, but we can overcome them, because this is the greatest nation in the history of mankind,” according to Ernst.

Ernst finished her speech by crediting her grandparents and others for working in the fields of Iowa and dreaming of a better life for their children. “They gave an ordinary Iowan extraordinary opportunities. Opportunities that they could only dream of. And in the Senate, that’s the kind of America that I am going to fight for every single day. Every single day,” Ernst said.

Ernst says she’ll take the Iowa way of doing things to Washington, D.C. Ernst takes over the seat held by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin. Her victory also helped Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate.

Audio: Ernst victory speech. 16:22.


Republicans win three of four seats in Iowa’s congressional delegation

Representative Steve King.

Representative Steve King.

Not only did Iowa voters decide to send another Republican from Iowa to the U.S. Senate to join Chuck Grassley there, voters elected Republicans in three out of the four congressional races in Iowa. Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Kiron, is now the dean of Iowa’s congressional delegation, easily winning his bid for a seventh term.

“I said this a few days ago, if Joni Ernst wins and we pick up an extra House seat I think they have to paint Iowa red again,” King told Radio Iowa, “and I’m feeling pretty good about that.”

King said voters are embracing “full spectrum, constitutional conservatism.”

“We want to move back to free enterprise and a balanced budget and repeal ObamaCare, a strong national defense,” King said. “I think the positions I’ve taken for life and marriage are very well supported here.”

The lone Democratic congressional victory tonight in Iowa was in the second congressional district where Dave Loebsack of Iowa City won reelection to a fifth term.

“I’ll be the first to admit it’ll be disappointing, but at the same time I’ve been working with Republicans since I got into congress,” Loebsack said. “And, you know, we’re all Iowans and I’m going to reach out to with Joni Ernst, for example, on military affairs and veterans affairs and keep working with Steve King.”

Iowa had two open seats and Republican Rod Blum of Dubuque won in the district Democrat Bruce Braley had held, while Republican David Young of Van Meter won in the district retiring Republican Congressman Tom Latham had held.

Young finished fifth in the voting in the GOP’s June Primary, but wound up winning the party’s nomination in a special convention held at the end of June. Young told Radio Iowa it’s been an “incredible ride” but it came to down fundamentals.

“Hard work, ideas and getting in front of the voters,” Young said.

Young has spent about two decades in Washington working for members of congress, including a seven-year run as Chuck Grassley’s chief of staff before he resigned to run for office himself.

“I’m just very blessed and I take this seat very seriously and the gravity of representing the people of the third district of Iowa,” Young said. “We worked hard. We were nice. We had ideas and I think the voters of Iowa recognized that in the end.”

Blum, the Dubuque businessman who won a narrow victory in Iowa’s first congressional district, said waiting for the final results was a bit excruciating.

“We’ve been at this 585 days now, campaigning — full time, and to put that much of your heart and soul into a campaign then it comes to just a couple of hours on television watching numbers scroll by is a rather and a very intense one, to say the least,” Blum told Radio Iowa.

Blum said the key to his race was his focus on economic issues for “average, working families.”

“I don’t think I’m your average Republican…For example, crony capitalism — I’m against that,” Blum said. “I’m against corporate welfare. I’m against billion dollar corporations not paying any income tax, so I think when people hear my message they say, ‘Hey, this guy is not hyperpartisan.”

Congressman Loebsack said there are “things we all have in common” when it comes to working for Iowans.

“You know, look. I don’t just talk about bipartisanship, I practice it,” Loebsack says. “..People in the second district, people in Iowa, people across the country want the parties to work together. They want people to get things done and that’s what I did and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”

Jim Mowrer of Boone is the Democrat who fell short in his challenge of Congressman King’s bid for reelection.

“Obviously the outcome this evening was not what we had hoped, but I wanted to tell my supporters that the thing that Republicans and Democrats still agree on is Washington is broken,” Mowrer told Radio Iowa this evening. “…We need to send people to Washington who want to fix that, who want to work together to get the job done.”

Mowrer is already being mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate to challenge Republican Senator Chuck Grassley’s bid for reelection in 2016

“I wouldn’t rule out anything,” Mowrer said. “…I’m going to rest up and I’m confident I’m going to continue to serve Iowa and serve my country in some capacity. That’s what I’ve always done and I’m confident that’s what I’m going to do in the future.”

While Joni Ernst broke Iowa’s glass ceiling and became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate from Iowa, two other Iowa female candidates fell short in their bids for seats in the U.S. House. Staci Appel of Ackworth spoke to supporters gathered in a Des Moines hotel ballroom.

“Unfortunately, tonight we came up short of our goal and I want to congratulate David Young on becoming the next congressperson from the third district,” Appel said. “While we don’t agree on everything, I will be his constituent and so I respect his hard work on this campaign and I wish him well.”

Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an eye doctor from Ottumwa who has twice before challenged Congressman Loebsack, lost her third bid for congress last night as well.

(This post was updated at 12:25 a.m. & again at 12:55 a.m. with additional information.)