GOP Sen. Joni Ernst faces a challenge from Democrat Theresa Greenfield for her Iowa Senate seat

  • Explore more races below.
  • Theresa Greenfield is challenging GOP Sen. Joni Ernst for US Senate in Iowa. 
  • Ernst, an Army veteran, was first elected to the US Senate in 2014, as part of a GOP wave and is facing a much tougher race for a second term. 
  • While Iowa has been steadily trending Republican at the federal level for the past few cycles, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the Senate map and Ernst's seat in play. 
  • Polls in Iowa close at 9 p.m. local time and 10 p.m. ET. Insider will have live results for this race as they come in. 
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Theresa Greenfield is challenging GOP Sen. Joni Ernst for US Senate in Iowa. Polls in Iowa close at 9 p.m. local time and 10 p.m. ET. Insider will have live results for this race as they come in. 

The candidates

Ernst, an Iowa Army National Guard veteran, was first elected to the US Senate in 2014, a GOP wave year, and is now seeking a second term. 

Senate Democrats' campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has thrown their weight behind Theresa Greenfield, an urban planner, real estate developer, and first-time political candidate who officially clinched the nomination on June 2.

Her campaign platform emphasizes expanding access to affordable healthcare, supporting Iowa's economy, and investing in Iowa's agricultural and rural industries and communities. 

Greenfield is proving to be a highly competent fundraiser. In 2020's second fundraising quarter, Greenfield brought in $6 million compared to $3.6 million for Ernst.

Ernst captured national attention during her 2014 campaign for highlighting her experience growing up on a pig farm and pledging to "make 'em squeal" in Washington. In Congress, Ernst serves on a number of powerful committees including the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Environment and Public Works. 

The stakes 

In addition to winning back the White House, regaining control of the US Senate for the first time since 2015 is a top priority for Democrats and would be a major accomplishment towards either delivering on a future president Joe Biden's policy goals or thwarting President Donald Trump's second-term agenda. 

Currently, the US Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents that caucus with Democrats, winning that Democrats need to win back a net total of four seats to have a 51-seat majority (if Biden wins, his vice president would also serve as president of the Senate and would be a tie-breaker vote). 

Iowa has been steadily trending Republican at the presidential level for the last several election cycles, with Trump carrying the state by eight percentage points in 2016. 

But the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic crisis have dramatically expanded the Senate map for Democrats and made some races that were not expected to be battlegrounds increasingly competitive, putting Ernst's seat back in play. 

And recently, the US Senate went through a high-stakes confirmation battle to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died at age 87 from pancreatic cancer on September 18, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett. 

The night of Ginsburg's death, Ernst's campaign sent out of a fundraising text alerting donors that "Emergency 5X matching has been activated for ALL donations made to protect the White House, keep the Senate majority in Republican hands and ensure the next Supreme Court nominee is selected by President Trump!"

Ernst later apologized for the message and said she did not personally approve it going out. 

Then, in an October 15 debate with Greenfield, Ernst made what amounted to a high-profile gaffe in the heavily agriculture-reliant state when she failed to name the current break-even price for a bushel of soybeans off the top of her head.

The money race

Greenfield has significantly outraised and outspent Ernst, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Greenfield has brought in $47.5 million, spent $43.7 million, and has $3.7 million in cash on hand, campaign finance records show, compared to $20.8 million raised, $19.7 million spent, and $2.4 million in cash on hand for Ernst. 

In 2020's third fundraising quarter, Greenfield brought in a showstopping $28.8 million haul and dwarfed Ernst, who raised about $7.2 million in the same timeframe, Roll Call noted. 

What the polling says

All the most recent polling indicates a tight race between Ernst and Greenfield, but recent surveys have found some differing results. 

After a poll from Quinnipiac University conducted October 23-27 showed Ernst leading Greenfield by two points, 48% to 46%, a Des Moines Register/Mediacom survey fielded by J. Ann Selzer, one of the most highly-regarded pollsters in Iowa and the nation, conducted from October 26 to 28, found Ernst ahead of Greenfield by four points, 46% to 42%, compared to Greenfield leading by three points in the Selzer poll from September.

Selzer attributed the apparent reversal in Ernst's fortunes to her making up a substantial amount of ground among independents, and consolidating support among demographics crucial to the Republican base in Iowa, including evangelicals, rural voters, and non college-educated white men. 

Two surveys subsequently released the day after on November 1, however, both showed Greenfield leading Ernst by three percentage points, respectively. An Emerson College poll conducted from October 29-31 found 51% of likely voters supporting Greenfield with 48% supporting Ernst, while a Civiqs/Daily Kos poll conducted October 29-November 1 found Greenfield at 50% and Ernst at 47% among likely voters. 

What some of the experts say

The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections rate the race as a tossup while Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics rates it as "leans Democratic." 

FiveThirtyEight's US Senate forecast rates the race as a pure tossup, giving both Greenfield and Ernst each a 50% chance of winning. 

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