National race watchers are honing in on Iowa’s Senate race as one of the most competitive in the country and key to Democrats retaking the majority, after Mitch McConnell’s super PAC booked $12.6 million in ads – the second-most for any GOP incumbent – in order to rescue Senator Joni Ernst’s increasingly vulnerable re-election. 

With the Cook Political Report downgrading Ernst’s re-election prospects after her approval rating plummeted 10 points, The Hill’s Max Greenfield notes that Mitch McConnell’s emergency ad booking  shows “the seriousness with which both sides view Iowa in the battle for the Senate.” Adding to Senator Ernst’s troubles, Iowa Democrats have built strong grassroots organization and enthusiasm from the caucuses and are poised to capitalize on the “suburban energy that helped drive House victories in 2018” to “bolster their Senate chances in 2020.”

The Hill: Democrats target Ernst in bid to expand Senate map

By: Max Greenfield

April 8, 2020

Key points:

  • Democrats are pouring resources into efforts to flip Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) seat and expand their electoral map in November, believing that Iowa has the potential to help decide the fate of the Senate majority.
  • Democrats say there are signs that Ernst’s reelection chances aren’t as rock solid as they once appeared to be.
  • A Des Moines Register–Mediacom Iowa poll released last month showed Ernst’s approval rating at 47 percent, down 10 points from where it was a year ago.
  • And the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, shifted the race in Democrats’ direction last month, moving it from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”
  • In a sign of how important the Iowa Senate seat is to both parties, the two top Republican and Democratic super PACs involved in Senate races booked a combined $25.7 million in fall ad reservations in Iowa late last month, their second-largest fall advertising investment after North Carolina.
  • The Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), booked $12.6 million in fall television ads in Iowa, a sign that Republicans see the race as competitive.
  • The size of the ad reservations — well over $10 million apiece — are notable, given Iowa’s relatively cheap media markets. But political operatives in the state say that the expensive bookings show the seriousness with which both sides view Iowa in the battle for the Senate.
  • Democrats say there are signs that Iowa’s political terrain is moving in their favor.
  • In the 2018 midterm elections, for instance, Democratic Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne flipped two Republican-held House seats in the state.
  • And in the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses in February, turnout in the counties around Des Moines increased, even as participation went down in more rural areas of the state, fueling Democratic hopes that the suburban energy that helped drive House victories in 2018 could bolster their Senate chances in 2020.
  • “There’s a lot of opportunity that if this race is run smart and correct it could pay off for Democrats,” said Jeremy Busch, the director of campaign communications for the Iowa Democratic Party, which remains neutral in the primary. “More voters than ever are willing to consider the Democratic platform.”