The similarities between American sports and American politics are endless. Each team – or in politics, each political party – has legions of fans and supporters. Some are casual fans, some are die-hard fans who are loyal even when their team isn’t playing well, and some are bandwagon fans who get passionate about their team when things are going well.
Likewise, political candidates also share similarities with athletes. Iowa Republicans wanted a home run hitting slugger to run for the open U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated when U.S. Senator Tom Harkin retires in 2014. As we all know, the superstars opted not to run, and even some of the Republican talent in the minor leagues took a pass. While the field of Republican candidates is largely unknown to most voters, it provides plenty of options for primary voters to consider.
One of those candidates, State Senator Joni Ernst, spoke at the Polk County Conservative Breakfast club on Tuesday morning. It was the first time that I have seen Ernst on the campaign trail, and I came away impressed. She spent most of her time talking about her background. In a primary where all of the candidates are largely un-known, letting people get to know you is a logical first step for a campaign.
Two things stood out to me. The first was her poise. Many times candidates running for a large office can seem unsure of themselves. That’s not the case with Ernst. While she was speaking to a friendly Republican audience on Tuesday, she was calm, cool, and collected. This, of course, didn’t come as a total surprise. As a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa National Guard, Ernst commands the largest battalion in the state, which totals 1,200 soldiers. She is expected to be calm under pressure.
I also thought that Ernst did a good job of addressing a number of issues during her speech. Ernst made it clear that she supports the repeal of Obamacare, not necessarily the current call by some Republicans to defund Obamacare. While both sound good, Ernst correctly wants to focus on repealing the Affordable Care Act, not just defunding it while still leaving the law in place. Regardless of the approach that Republicans take towards halting or repealing Obamacare, Ernst believes that Republicans need to be united in what they do.
In addressing a question about how to rein in the federal budget, Ernst, who supports the balanced budget amendment, also said that she would eliminate the entire federal Department of Education. This has been a popular position with Republican activists for years, but it is probably easier said than done. The federal government now administers student loans and awards Pell grants and provides other tax incentives. Eliminating the Department of Education is music to the ears of activists, but frankly, it would be a mess to actually accomplish and probably a costly endeavor for Republicans politically.
Ernst also made her positions known on a number of other issues. She’s pro-life, supports traditional marriage, wants to simplify the tax code, and is a strong advocate for American’s Second Amendment rights. “The Second Amendment is not just words on a piece of paper,” Ernst said. “We have the right to keep and bear arms, period, and it is something that I am willing to defend when I go to Washington, D.C.”
Ernst might not be a homerun hitter as a statewide politician, but if we are keeping with the baseball analogies, she gets a lot of hits and gets on base. In a crowded Republican primary, getting on base is important, and the ease with which she addressed the core issues will help her make a good first impression with voters.
As the primary progresses, it will be interesting to see how Ernst does when she and her political opponents begin to engage with each other. For now, everyone seems to be playing nice. The race will get much different when candidates begin to debate the details of each other’s positions and proposals. Ernst’s temperament and military background give her a little bit of an advantage over her opponents, but at the end of the day, voters care about issues. It will be interesting to see her talk about issues in greater detail.
Ernst is already running what seems to be a very competent U.S. Senate campaign. Tuesday’s speech in Des Moines showed that Ernst herself is a competent candidate. She’s off to a good start, but with almost 10 months until primary day, there is still a long ways to go before voters really start to engage in this race.
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