Like many candidates this time of year, Joni Ernst, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Iowa, scheduled a series of sit-down interviews with the editorial boards of local newspapers. It’s a rite of passage, of sorts – candidates are expected to endure questions, murder-board style, in the hopes of impressing editors and earning a newspaper’s endorsement.
Today, however, she decided to scrap those meetings.
Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst snubbed The Des Moines Register, Iowa’s biggest and most influential newspaper, by canceling her scheduled Thursday endorsement interview with the editorial board.Ernst was scheduled to sit down with the Register for one hour on Thursday in advance of the paper’s endorsement, which could come Sunday. Her Democratic opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley, met with the board earlier this month.
According to one editor at the paper, the right-wing state senator also scrapped upcoming meetings with the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald. At this point, it appears none of the interviews, which Ernst had already agreed to, will be rescheduled. In other words, these were cancellations, not postponements.
In a press statement, an Ernst aide said the candidate is “barnstorming the state” and “time is precious.” Perhaps. But the Republican Senate hopeful agreed to participate in these interviews with editors, well aware of her schedule.
So what changed her mind? Ernst’s spokesperson also suggested that the Des Moines Register’s editorial board has already made its position “perfectly clear,” but (a) that doesn’t explain why the far-right candidate scrapped meeting with the other papers; and (b) the DMR has occasionally gone out of its way to give Ernst extraordinarily favorable coverage.
With this in mind, there’s probably something else going on here.
My suspicion is that Ernst doesn’t see interviews with newspaper editorial boards as an opportunity; she sees them as a threat. According to nearly all recent polling, the Republican leads this race, despite her often bizarre radicalism and conspiracy theories. Why sit down for lengthy, in-depth interviews, face questions about her extremist ideology and fringe ideas, and risk making matters worse for herself with inadequate answers in the campaign’s closing days?
The Des Moines Register’s publisher told Dylan Byers, “Undecided voters I talk to want Sen. Ernst to break through the rhetoric and cacophony of campaign ads about hogs, Obamacare and balanced budgets. It’s a time for sharing specifics. It’s a chance to have a serious conversation about vision, priorities, the economy, national security, foreign relations and Social Security.”
That’s exactly right – and a perfect summation of why Ernst apparently wants no part of this conversation.
In case this isn’t obvious, Joni Ernst is winning this race because of the cacophony of noise and petty nonsense. The moment the race turns to specifics and public policy is the moment the deeply radical state senator loses. If she’s winning, it’s better to run out the clock and face some criticism for a day or two than struggle through a substantive interview.
Ernst had a decision: remain silent and be thought a fool, or sit down with editors and remove all doubt. Is really that surprising that she prefers the former to the latter?