August 28, 2014

College student loan issue swirls in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race

Bruce Braley talking with college students at Drake University.

Bruce Braley talking with college students at Drake University.

Government-backed student loans are the new battleground in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race between Democrat Bruce Braley and Republican Joni Ernst. Braley has visited four Iowa college campuses this week to hold round-table discussions with students about college debt, to highlight some of his opponent’s statements.

“The choice couldn’t be clearer between the two of us,” Braley said after an event at Drake University. “She says she wants to abolish the Department of Education which oversees the Pell Grant program which distributes $350 million to Iowa college students, the federal student loan program which loans $1 billion to Iowa students — and she wants the federal government out of the student loan business.”

During the Republican primary campaign, Ernst expressed support for privatizing student loans. Yesterday, Ernst was asked about the issue.

“Before we got rid of any government-backed student loans, I would want to know what we’re replacing it with,” Ernst said during an interview after a campaign event in Indianola. “So it’s not just about doing away with government-backed loans, but making sure we’re finding a solution and, really, what is underlying is the excessive cost of education in the United States, so I think we need to get at that issue also.”

Braley said if federal direct loans for students are eliminated, student debt would skyrocket.

“We heard today from students what a dramatic additional financial burden that would be for them if they’re borrowing money at 12 to 18 percent,” Braley said Tuesday, “which is what many of them are forced to do depending upon their own credit history in the private marketplace.”

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

Ernst said finding out why college tuition rates are rising so rapidly should be a goal for policymakers.

“Perhaps all of our students don’t need four-year degrees,” Ernst said. “I just heard from a group yesterday that said we really need those trade skills out there, those people that go to trade schools, not necessarily four-year schools.”

Both Ernst and Braley got undergraduate degrees from Iowa State University and both financed part of that education with government student loans.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce ‘all in’ for GOP’s Joni Ernst for U.S. Senate (AUDIO)

Rob Engstrom of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with Joni Ernst.

Rob Engstrom of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with Joni Ernst.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Republican Joni Ernst in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race. Rob Engstrom, the group’s national political director, said today they’re “all in” for Ernst because her opponent is “actively hostile” toward businesses.

“In any senate race across the country, the choice couldn’t be more clear where you have somebody in Congressman Bruce Braley who is a personal injury lawyer. He’s made a career suing businesses,” Engstrom said. “…He is the face of the problem in Washington, D.C.”

Engstrom spoke during an event at an Indianola hardware store, praising Ernst as an advocate of the free enterprise system, but directing most of his remarks at Braley.

“Whether it’s chasing chickens around his neighbor’s yard and threatening lawsuits, whether it’s pretending to be a farmer, there’s not enough duct tape in aisle three to fix Mr. Braley’s failed record in Washington, D.C.,” Engstrom said, as Ernst laughed.

The U.S. Chambers of Commerce spent over $35 million supporting Republican candidates in 2012 and the group this year has already spent more than half a million on behalf of just one incumbent Republican senator from Mississippi. Ernst will now benefit from U.S. Chambers of Commerce campaign ads run on her behalf in Iowa.

“I do truly hope to have the opportunity to fight the good fight for good, solid, pro-growth economic policies for Iowans — both employees and employers — in the United States Senate,” Ernst said at the event inside McCoy Hardware.

AUDIO of U.S. Chamber of Commerce event in Indianola, 16:00

Braley, her opponent, told reporters an hour later that Ernst will find the endorsement from the U.S. Chambers of Commerce to be a “liability.”

“They are strongly opposed to increasing the minimum wage, which would give 300,000 a pay raise — 20 percent of the workforce,” Braley said after a campaign stop in Des Moines. “And the fact that they’re another organization that is financed by the Koch brothers should be no surprise to Iowans as to why they chose to endorse my opponent.”

The Koch brothers are billionaires who are expected to spend $300 million this election cycle to back conservative candidates and causes.

Joe Walsh of Eagles’ fame helping Braley raise cash

A man who’s been an Eagle since 1976 is offering a boost to Bruce Braley’s U.S. Senate campaign.

Joe Walsh is the lead guitarist who helped the Eagles craft their most famous album, Hotel California. Some of his iconic guitar riffs are featured in songs like “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Life’s Been Good”. The Eagles will be in Des Moines September 6 for a concert and an email sent out under Walsh’s name invites people to donate to Braley’s Senate campaign.

One of the contributors will get two tickets to the Eagles concert and a private meeting with Walsh and the rest of the band. Braley and his wife, Carolyn, met at an Eagles concert in the 1980s when they were both Iowa State University students.

New Ernst ad stresses her service as soldier

Joni Ernst (file photo)

Joni Ernst (file photo)

With less than three months now before the November election, the barrage of campaign advertising for Iowa’s U.S Senate race continues, but this week it’s the two candidates rather than outside groups using Iowa’s broadcast space, trying to influence voters. This morning Republican Joni Ernst releases a biographical ad, focused on her two decades of service in the Iowa National Guard.

In late July, the Ernst campaign held an event with her fellow soldiers and other veterans where she talked about the Guard.

“It’s Iowans helping Iowans and we saw that every single day that we were deployed,” Ernst said.

The new Ernst ad stresses that during times of natural disaster, the Guard helps Iowans, regardless of which party they may belong to and she’s been making that case in speeches, too.

“It is something that I feel very strongly about, service,” Ernst said July 28th. “…However we can help our communities, that’s what’s important.”

Bruce Braley at the Iowa State Fair.

Bruce Braley at the Iowa State Fair.

On Tuesday, Democrat Bruce Braley’s campaign released an ad featuring a father talking about Braley’s efforts to protect soldiers from sexual assault. It aims to highlight Braley’s work across party lines to get things done in congress. Braley talked about that theme during his speech at the Iowa State Fair, mentioning his youth in Brooklyn, Iowa.

“When people in Brooklyn had a problem they asked for your help and they got it and that’s what Iowans expect from their senators,” Braley said.

Both campaigns have raised a significant amount of money to bankroll ad campaigns, but it’s likely outside groups will spend more than either Braley or Ernst does on this race. With polls showing the race neck-in-neck, Iowa’s U.S. Senate race will be among the most expensive in the country.

Democrats highlight Ernst statement on Iraq situation

Iowa Democrats and Bruce Braley’s campaign are drawing attention to comments Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst made during an ABC interview late last week.

“What we see going on in Iraq right now, if this current administration had followed guidance from military leaders many years ago, we would not be in this situation,” Ernst said.

Jeff Zeleny, ABC’s Senior Washington correspondent, asked: “Do you support the limited airstrikes that were started this morning?”

Ernst replied: “I can say is what I would have supported is leaving additional troops in Iraq longer and perhaps we wouldn’t have this situation today.”

Ernst is a battalion commander in the Iowa National Guard who served in Iraq in 2003 with a unit that ran convoys from Kuwait into southern Iraq. Darin Adams of Marshalltown was stationed in Iraq for two and a half years and he was recruited by the Iowa Democratic Party to offer a rebuttal to Ernst’s statements on Iraq.

“I guess my first thought when I read it was just shock at the disconnect that Ms. Ernst has with the American public,” Adams said during a conference call with reporters. “The American public wanted to pull out of Iraq, you know, unless we want to create permanent bases in Iraq which is not what the people want and not what the Iraqis want.”

Adams served a year in Baqubah and a year in Mosul, two cities which are now threatened by the Islamic militants who’ve seized control of large swaths of Iraq. Critics of the Obama Administration argue if some U.S. troops had been left in Iraq they could have sounded an early warning about the so-called ISIS militants. Adams said America’s military community knew a decade ago that what’s happening now could happen.

“I mean, how big of a force would we have to put in Iraq to not have the situation go the way that it is? How many troops is enough?” Adams asked. “How many dead American soldiers is enough? When do we say, ‘Hey, we’ve given you all the resources you need to be successful, but this is an Iraqi problem that needs Iraqi solutions.’”

A spokeswoman for the Ernst campaign says Ernst believes President Obama should have worked harder to negotiate an agreement with the Iraqi government that would have kept some U.S. troops in the country. In March, Ernst criticized Obama’s approach to the Ukraine crisis.

There’s been an anti-war vein in Iowa politics over the years. In 1991, Chuck Grassley was one of just two Republican senators who voted against the Gulf War resolution. In 2002, though, Grassley voted for military action in Iraq. Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican, voted for the first Gulf War, but in 2002 Leach voted against sending U.S. troops back to Iraq, arguing it could weaken the fight against terrorism. Leach lost his bid for reelection in 2006. He endorsed Barack Obama’s bid for the White House in 2008.

Ernst stresses ‘good neighbor’ message in Ames speech (AUDIO)

Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst stressed an “Iowa nice” message today during a speech at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, with the underlying hint that her opponent may not always take that approach.

“It’s our Iowa way to walk across the street and help a neighbor in need and additionally when Iowans find themselves at odds with each other, the way we should do business is through words, amicably, with a handshake,” Ernst said.

Bruce Braley, the Democrat Ernst faces in November, and his wife recently had a dispute with a neighbor at the Braley’s vacation property in eastern Iowa. Carolyn Braley went to the Holiday Lake Owners Association meeting this spring to complain about the neighbor’s roving chickens. Congressman Braley called the association’s lawyer to say he wanted to avoid a “litigious situation”, but Braley stressed that he believed chickens are not pets.

Ernst was among the first speakers at the event in Ames which has attracted a crowd of Christian conservatives. Ernst is a Sunday School teacher and confirmation class leader in her home church in Stanton and she made a passage in the Bible, about two of Jesus’s disciples who did not recognize Jesus after his crucifixion and before his ascension, a focus in her speech.

“What this does is point out to me and I hope it points out to you also that in our everyday lives there is goodness around us and here in Iowa that is particularly true because we have Iowans that help other Iowans,” Ernst said. “That’s our way of doing business in this state.”

Ernst called her seven-minute speech to the crowd of Christian conservatives “a little detour’ from the campaign trail. Ernst closed with this.

“There is goodness, there is truth, there is support, there is love around each one of us in our daily lives, even though we may not see it,” Ernst said. “Believe me. It is right there in front of you.”

AUDIO of Ernst’s speech, 7:00

A spokesman for Braley issued a written statement in response.

“Whether it’s successfully fighting for assistance to homeowners during the devastating floods of 2008, or securing back pay for hundreds of Iowa National Guardsmen who had served in Iraq, Bruce has always fought for his Iowa neighbors,” said Sam Lau, a spokesman for Braley, who also suggested Ernst had limited the subject matter of her speech at today’s event to avoid talking about her “Tea Party ideas.”

Some other Republican candidates on November’s ballot were among the first speakers at today’s summit, including Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, Congressman Steve King and Sam Clovis, the Republican candidate for state treasurer.

(This story was updated at 2:15 p.m. with additional information.)

Ernst campaigns at Iowa State Fair

Joni Ernst at the Iowa State Fair.

Joni Ernst at the Iowa State Fair.

U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst delivered what she billed as “not a campaign political speech” at the Iowa State Fair today.

During an appearance on The Des Moines Register’s “Soapbox”, Ernst talked about her service in the Iowa National Guard and she paid tribute to a soldier from her home area in southwest Iowa who was killed in Iraq.

“I am going to take my time on this Soapbox to talk about something that I feel is very, very important…those brave men and women who serve in our armed forces,” Ernst said.

Ernst did not mention her opponent, Democrat Bruce Braley, or the ads criticizing Braley for missing over three-quarters of the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearings when Braley served on the panel, but Ernst made a short reference to the scandals engulfing the Veterans Administration.

“I am appalled at the heartbreaking way our Veterans Affairs Administration is being run today,” Ernst said. “Our servicemen and women have fought so very hard for us. We must stand up for them and we must stand up for their families,” Ernst said.

Two people dressed as ears of corn were in the crowd surrounding Ernst to call attention to questions Democrats have raised about Ernst’s support for ethanol. There were other protestors promoting other causes, like gun control, but none of the protestors disrupted her speech. Carol Hunter, the Des Moines Register’s executive news director, made this announcement to the crowd just before introducing Ernst: “Let’s have civil discourse here. Let’s let each of the speakers have their say.”

Ernst began her day on the fairgrounds with a news conference alongside other Republican elected officials to tout the federal mandate for yearly ethanol production. The Renewable Fuels Standard for 2014 is in limbo as federal officials consider scaling it back.

“I have had a 100 percent voting record supporting RFS in the Iowa state Senate,” Ernst said. “Not only have I supported it legislatively, but I have been an advocate for RFS.”

Ernst said during the primary season that she is philosophically opposed to all tax credits for selected industries, including the one for ethanol, but would support keeping it until the playing field is leveled and all tax credits are ended. Democrats have questioned whether Ernst has promised her campaign contributors from the oil industry that she would vote to do away with the Renewable Fuels Standard if she’s elected to the U.S. Senate.

“I’m just going to say that most of the attacks out there are blatantly false,” Ernst told reporters. “They are distractions from my actual record on where I stand on the RFS.”

Republican Governor Terry Branstad jumped to her defense, saying he “resents” the ads running against Ernst, questioning her fidelity to ethanol.

“We have had broad, bipartisan support for renewable fuels and for these people from California that have never supported renewable fuels is wrong,” Branstad said.

Ernst is spending part of her day at the State Fair with the father of Jamie Kearney, a soldier from Emerson, Iowa, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. Kearney was the first Iowa soldier killed in the line of duty during the war in Afghanistan.