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Ernst stumbles on 'personhood' basics

When Iowa's Joni Ernst talks about "personhood," she appears to either be misleading the public or getting her facts wrong. Either way, it's a problem.
State Sen. Joni Ernst waves to supporters at a primary election night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, June 3, 2014.
State Sen. Joni Ernst waves to supporters at a primary election night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, June 3, 2014.
Control of the U.S. Senate in the next Congress will likely hinge in part on what happens in Iowa, which in turn has brought Joni Ernst's (R) dual-track problems into the national spotlight.
The first is her ideological extremism, which came into sharper focus on Friday, when the public learned that the Iowa Republican not only believes states can "nullify" federal laws, but also that Ernst endorsed arresting federal officials if they tried to implement health care law in Iowa. It's the kind of position that puts the Senate hopeful squarely in the bonkers wing of the GOP.
The second is her general lack of familiarity with the basics of current events and issues she says she cares about. Ernst, for example, said just last week that she believes Congress passed cap and trade (it didn't), believes Congress sets every state's minimum wage (it doesn't), and believes Social Security will go "broke" in "20 years (it won't).
And then there's "personhood," a policy that would ban abortions and many common forms of birth control, which is a policy Ernst endorsed but is now trying to finesse. At last week's debate against Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), the right-wing candidate said the personhood measure she helped champion was "simply a statement that I support life." Ernst repeated the same line for emphasis.
But a closer look at reality suggests Ernst is either not telling the truth or she's confused again about the basics of one of her own proposals.
Greg Sargent has been following this closely.

Iowa State Senator Dennis Guth was one of the lawmakers who spearheaded the Iowa Personhood amendment, which would amend the state Constitution to include the following language: "The inalienable right to life of every person at any stage of development shall be recognized and protected." This is in keeping with the general goal of Personhood measures, to ensure that full human rights begin at the moment of fertilization. In an interview with me, Guth suggested the purpose of the amendment was indeed to have a real world impact. Its purpose, he said, was "to make sure that we include the pre-born, those who have been conceived but are not yet born, in the category of all human beings that would receive all human rights." "My intent is to preserve the full rights of all persons for everyone in this country from the moment of conception to the time of natural death," Guth said.

So when Ernst insists the Iowa personhood measure was simply "a statement on life," that's at odds with what the proposal's own author has to say about the policy. Indeed, Greg talked to another Iowa personhood supporter who conceded that Ernst "did not describe the bill accurately."
I can't say with confidence whether the Republican candidate is deliberately trying to mislead the public about one of her more radical policy positions. Given Ernst's track record, it's certainly possible she just doesn't know what she's talking about, and when she describes the policy she supported inaccurately, she doesn't realize her remarks are untrue.
Then again, either explanation is a bit of a problem for a candidate in the middle of one of the nation's most important Senate races.