Ernst in the spotlight at GOP state convention


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One way or another, Joni Ernst has stood out from her political contenders.

When many of her state opponents were busy scraping together funds to keep their campaigns going, she was standing alongside some of the nation’s most distinguishable Republican figureheads and political-action committees.

Sarah Palin. The National Rifle Association. Mitt Romney. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Marco Rubio. The Senate Conservatives Fund.

They’re all backing her royally.

And the 2014 Iowa GOP state convention was no different.

For one political-science professor, the culmination of Ernst’s endorsements is a part of what bodes well for her.

Steffen Schmidt, a professor at Iowa State University, said Ernst’s celebrity stature is driven by two factors: full-spectrum endorsements across Republican Party lines and “one brilliant political ad.”

“Usually endorsements suck; they don’t make a difference,” said Schmidt, also known as Dr. Politics. “But when you get it from the entire spectrum of the Republican Party — which is very divided right now — this speaks to voters.”

No one else was able to get oxygen from the news media, he said about Ernst’s early four Republican challengers.

Ernst, 43, was accompanied by many unique-to-the-state faces, from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, to more familiar visitors to the Hawkeye State, such Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who finished ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2012 Iowa caucuses.

Nearly 1,500 state Republicans gathered inside Hy-Vee Hall, 730 Third St., in downtown Des Moines for the convention’s kickoff. 

Delving into her long-touted background, Ernst nearly immediately took jabs at her challenger, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and the two-term Obama administration.

“Some people may attack me because I don’t have a law degree, but I think that’s a good thing,” she said, referencing Braley’s background as an Iowa trial lawyer.

Following Ernst’s convention speech, Braley for Iowa released a statement on the remarks.

“The clear choice in this race is more apparent than ever, between Bruce Braley, who’s fighting for working families to raise the minimum wage and protect Social Security and Medicare, and Sen. Ernst, who is siding with her out-of-state billionaire backers to repeal the federal minimum wage, privatize Social Security, and transform Medicare as we know it,” said Sarah Benzing, the Braley for Iowa campaign manager.

The party should not stray from its core messages but should put greater emphasis on getting party policies out to the nation’s young people if the GOP hopes to secure more power on Capitol Hill, Paul said.

“I can tell you most everybody in Washington has seen Joni Ernst’s ad,” Paul, 51, said to Iowa Republicans. “The purveyors of pork are shaking in their boots.”

Jindal, 43, the first U.S. Indian-American Governor, maintained that Ernst and himself share the true meaning of being a “principled conservative.”

The rise to success for Ernst, the GOP’s apparent “it girl,” came into play several by several outlets, said University of Iowa political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle.

A lack of A-list Republican Senate candidates such as Rep. Steve King or Rep. Tom Latham, Hagle said, also added to the mix, as did her endorsements and national financial aid. 

Iowans might see the most expensive Senate race in Iowa history, both from Democrats and Republicans, Hagle said, due in part by the Americans for Prosperity Super PAC’s influence for Republicans.

“In New Hampshire — where I am right now — they know who Joni Ernst. They don’t know who Bruce Braley is,” Schmidt said.

The fellow female support by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds — who accepted a renomination for the position on June 14 — Schmidt said, doesn’t really factor in.

In fact, the bright spotlight being shown on Ernst may help Reynolds, who he said is being “groomed” for the governorship after the end of Branstad’s long political career.

“Reynolds, who’s really a shadow of Terry Branstad, doesn’t have any glitz on her own,” he said. “Ernst could give Reynolds more zing.”

The question at hand is if Ernst’s recent backings, beyond that of Gov. Terry Branstad and early support by Reynolds — a close friend — will weigh heavily enough in her favor to trump Braley.

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