Charlie Neibergall/AP
Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, in June. Ernst is in a race against Democrat Bruce Braley that has become a competitive contest in the battle for Senate control.

Joni Ernst, the next Sarah Palin? GOP fights back.

Democrats, eager to hold onto the Senate, are seeking to portray Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst (R) as the next Sarah Palin. Not so fast, say Republicans, who put out a seven-minute web bio on Ernst.

Democrats are trying with all their might to turn Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee for US Senate in Iowa, into the next Sarah Palin.

Indeed, the polarizing former governor of Alaska has endorsed Ms. Ernst, a state senator and 20-year military vet. And Ernst is handy with a gun, which she unloaded at a firing range in an ad during the primaries. In another catchy ad, she talked about castrating hogs – perhaps the Iowa equivalent of field-dressing a moose?

“Joni Ernst would be another tea party vote in the Senate,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says in its latest spot, part of a reported multi-million-dollar ad campaign against her. “Palin, Ernst: too extreme for Iowa.” 

Democrats’ investment in defeating Ernst shows how crucial the race is. If the seat currently held by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D) goes Republican, Democrats can pretty much kiss their Senate majority goodbye. So far, the Democrats’ nominee, Rep. Bruce Braley, hasn’t caught fire, though the race is still a tossup in solidly purple Iowa.  

Another problem for the Democrats is that Ernst really isn’t “tea party.” In her surge to the top of the Republican heap in the June 3 primary, she won endorsements across the GOP spectrum – from Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas to 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the US Chamber of Commerce.

“Ernst was hardly the bomb-throwing Ted Cruz of the Iowa Senate,” Time magazine concludes.  

Now the Republicans are fighting back with a seven-minute biographical video on Ernst. The web-only bio, released Tuesday and produced by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), features interviews with Ernst, her military-vet husband, friends, the lieutenant governor, and a former colleague in the Iowa Army National Guard.

“She was there, boots on the ground, making sure that everybody got back safely to Iowa,” says Mel, no last name provided, who served under Ernst in Iraq.

Ernst led 150 soldiers into combat, and would be the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate, according to the NRSC.

The Democratic ad claims Ernst would privatize Social Security, cut taxes for millionaires, and eliminate the national minimum wage. In its own “fact check,” the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee cites Ernst’s comments in a primary debate and on Iowa Public Radio, as well as a vote in the state Senate.

The committee’s ad steers clear of more provocative statements by Ernst which have surfaced of late. In one video, she talks about a decades-old conspiracy theory involving the United Nations.

In another, from last January, she calls for the impeachment of President Obama.  

Ernst has since distanced herself from past controversial statements, in the classic dance of moving right to win the primary and then moving to the center for the general election.

But Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, isn’t holding back.

Ernst is “an onion of crazy,” Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz said at the Iowa State Fair last weekend. “The more you peel back the layers, the more disturbing it is.”

The Democratic chairwoman also pounded the Palin comparison: “When you have a woman like Joni Ernst who has been endorsed by Sarah Palin, that should say it all.”

Comparisons are in the eye of the beholder. Watch the NRSC mini-bio and see if the woman in the video is really Palin material.

It’s a great narrative for the media. “Palin” is still a grabby catch word for headlines. But Ernst’s low-key Iowa demeanor may not quite match the Democratic hype. 

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