Joni Ernst learned the wrong lesson from Chuck Grassley

Senator Joni Ernst shouldn’t be in this position.

Given Iowans’ tendency to re-elect incumbents and the state’s rightward drift this past decade, she should be running ten points ahead.

Instead, Iowa’s Senate race is universally seen as a toss-up. Ernst has led in only two polls released since the June primary. Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield has led in fourteen polls during the same period.

Not all of Ernst’s political problems are her own creation. The COVID-19 pandemic and President Donald Trump’s disastrous leadership have put at risk several GOP-held seats that once seemed safe.

But Ernst could have set herself up better to survive a tough environment for her party. Her most important strategic error was not following the example Chuck Grassley set as a 40-something first-term senator.

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The 19 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2019

Five years ago, I started taking stock of my most labor-intensive posts near the end of each year. Not all of these are my favorite projects, though invariably, some of my favorites end up on these compilations.

Before getting to the countdown for 2019, I want to give another shout out to guest authors who poured an extraordinary amount of work into two posts Bleeding Heartland published last year.

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Joni Ernst won't cross NRA for deal on Violence Against Women Act

Months of work on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which lapsed in February, “came to a screeching halt” this week, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst announced on the Senate floor on November 7.

For 25 years, that federal law has supported “criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States.” Congress has reauthorized it three times, each time with improvements. By Ernst’s telling, “Democrats are putting politics ahead of people,” rejecting a bipartisan approach to revive the law in favor of “non-starter” legislation the U.S. House approved in April.

Some salient facts were missing from Ernst’s narrative. The House bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act was bipartisan: 33 Republicans voted for it.

Ernst also left out a few relevant words: guns, firearms, and National Rifle Association.

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Highlights: How Iowa's Pete Brownell helped NRA become Russian asset

Pete Brownell, the CEO of the Grinnell-based firearms retailer Brownells, was a key target in a scheme by foreign agents who used the National Rifle Association “to gain access to American conservative organizations on behalf of the Russian Federation,” an eighteen-month investigation revealed. The report by Democratic staff on the U.S. Senate Finance Committee determined that while representing the NRA, Brownell met with sanctioned individuals in Russia in December 2015. That trip helped demonstrate to the Kremlin that Russian government official Alexander Torshin had strong American connections.

In addition, investigators found evidence Brownell went to Moscow “primarily or solely for the purpose of advancing personal business interests, rather than advancing the NRA’s tax-exempt purpose.” Maria Butina (who worked closely with Torshin and was later charged in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation) set up meetings for Brownell with Russian arms manufacturers and retailers and traveled with the Iowan for three days before the rest of the NRA group arrived.

By using the so-called social welfare organization’s resources in this way, the NRA and Brownell may have violated portions of the federal tax code relating to private inurement and excess benefit transactions.

Bleeding Heartland’s efforts to reach Brownell for comment on September 27 were unsuccessful. The media contact for the Brownells company did not return phone calls.

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Former police officer comments on "Stand Your Ground" law

Gun owner and retired police officer David Grussing comments on House File 517, which cleared the Iowa House last week and the Senate Judiciary Committee this afternoon. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I’m writing in response to the efforts by the Republicans in both chambers of the Iowa legislature to relax Iowa’s already limited common sense gun safety measures. Their efforts, if enacted, will result in new “Stand Your Ground” legislation and making the permit process for carrying a weapon virtually worthless.

I can almost see the Republican heads shaking and thinking, “Here’s another gun hating Democrat who wants to take our guns away and repeal the 2nd Amendment.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I am a Democrat, but I own several handguns, a couple of rifles, and a shotgun. In addition, I served as a police officer for about 25 years, with about 17 of those years as a detective who carried a concealed weapon as part of my daily routine.

I also was a candidate for the District 7 seat in the Iowa House last year. During that campaign, I knocked on about 4,500 doors throughout the district and conducted dozens of public appearances, including about ten candidate forums with my opponent, State Representative Tedd Gassman. Not once, during any candidate forum, public appearance, or conversation on a door step, did anyone tell me that they thought Iowa’s gun laws were too strict and needed to be relaxed. It’s worth mentioning that District 7, which is comprised of Emmet, Winnebago, and parts of Kossuth counties, is exactly the kind of rural, conservative District that Democrats have had difficulty connecting with.

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The 16 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2016

For the first time last year, I put some thought into what posts had consumed the greatest amount of my energy. I realized that some of those deep dives were among my most satisfying writing projects. That new awareness informed my editorial choices in good and bad ways. Unfortunately, some election-related stories I would have covered in previous cycles didn’t get written in 2016, because I was immersed in other topics. On the plus side, those rabbit holes led to work I’m proud to have published.

Assembling this post was more challenging than last year’s version. Several pieces that would have been among my most labor-intensive in another year didn’t make the cut. A couple of posts that might have made the top ten were not ready to go before the holidays. Maybe they will end up in a future collection of seventeen posts I worked hardest on in 2017.

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