WASHINGTON – A group of female Democrats appealed to voters in the Iowa Senate race last week, telling them that Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democratic Senate candidate, is a better advocate for women’s issues than his opponent.
Joni Ernst, a Republican state senator, and Braley, a four-term congressman, are locked in a competitive race for Iowa’s Senate seat vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
Real Clear Politics (RCP) rates the Iowa Senate race as a toss-up, with Ernst leading the race by an average of 1.8 percentage points.
Quinnipiac University’s latest poll gives Ernst a lead of four percentage points. Ernst picked up two percentage points since Quinnipiac’s previous poll in mid-October. Ernst gained support among Iowa’s key bloc of independent voters, carrying 50 percent of independent support to Braley’s 41 percent. Ninety-one percent of voters say their mind is made up, making the race fairly stable.
The race in Iowa could help determine who wins control of the Senate. If Republicans win it, then they can afford to lose states like Georgia and Kansas and win the majority without pulling off unexpected victories in North Carolina or New Hampshire.
Iowa has never elected a woman to the U.S. House or Senate, so some Republicans are framing the race as an historic opportunity for the state. Democrats, on the other hand, are hoping to tap into their popularity among women voters to turn the Senate race in their favor.
Several prominent female Democrats have visited the state to campaign for Braley and tell Iowans why he is the better choice to champion women’s issues in the Senate.
“Bruce Braley has always stood up for women and their own right to make their own healthcare decisions,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told a group of women at a forum in Des Moines, Iowa. “He has made sure that women have the economic opportunity that comes with making their own healthcare choices. And I know Sen. Ernst is exactly opposite than he is.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said the Iowa race will decide whether “we move forward with women’s healthcare issues.”
“We can’t go back on healthcare rights for women – we need to move forward,” Cantwell said. “We need a partner in the U.S. Senate that will fight for women’s healthcare and for equal pay for equal work. Bruce Braley is the right candidate who will protect women’s rights and support an economic agenda that will move our country forward.”
In her second trip to the Hawkeye State since 2008, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered two speeches Wednesday for Braley that touched on a range of Democratic priorities, from raising the minimum wage and college affordability to healthcare and economic inequality. She emphasized the differences between Braley and Ernst on economic and social policies.
“There is a big difference between these two candidates,” Clinton said, urging those in attendance to ask the candidates “real questions.”
“So ask these candidates: will you make college more affordable for Iowa students, will you raise the minimum wage for Iowa workers, will you protect Medicare for Iowa seniors, or will you turn your back on the people of Iowa and take your marching orders from big money donors who don’t care about your families,” she said.
Clinton said Braley has the “same fighting spirit, the same can-do attitude” of Sen. Harkin and is the only candidate capable of filling his “big shoes.”
“The choice couldn’t be any more clear,” Clinton said. “We need leaders like Bruce Braley.”
She said Braley has ensured that Iowans “have a fair shot at the American dream” by helping create renewable energy jobs, job-training programs and tax incentives for businesses that hire veterans.
Clinton also commented on women’s health and reproductive rights. She challenged Ernst’s support of a “personhood” amendment – which would give full human rights from the moment of conception – and criticized the Republican Party for trying to repeal Obamacare.
“It was not so long ago that being a woman meant being labeled a pre-existing condition, and women were charged more by insurance companies solely because of our gender,” Clinton told about 400 Democratic supporters at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Democrats say the amendment would ban certain types of birth control, even in cases of rape and incest.
“It’s not enough to be a woman. You have to be committed to expand rights and opportunities for all women,” Clinton said.
Clinton took a shot at Ernst for canceling a meeting with the Des Moines Register editorial board and not scheduling meetings with other newspapers.
“It truly seems like it should be disqualifying in Iowa…to avoid answering questions,” she said.
“When [politicians] won’t answer your questions, or the questions of the newspapers of your state, how will you know what they’re going to do?” she asked at a Wednesday evening rally in Davenport.
Braley and his fellow Democrats have tried to portray Ernst as too extreme for Iowa, arguing that Ernst is far more conservative than most Iowa women on such hot-button issues as personhood and abortion.
“Joni Ernst, too extreme for Iowa” read the text of one ad from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which describes Ernst’s support of a state amendment bestowing personhood status on a fetus as an attempt to ban abortion.
Ernst has not emphasized her gender as much as other female candidates, who have appealed to voters to help them shatter the glass ceiling.
“I’m not running on my gender,” Ernst told the New York Times.
Braley leads among women by eight percentage points, and men prefer Ernst by 17 points, according to an RCP survey. In another poll, Ernst has a 12-point advantage among men deemed most likely to vote, while Braley leads among female voters by five points.