And Sen. Ernst's reelection prospects look more bleak than ever.
In her third and last debate with the Democratic challenger for her Senate seat, Theresa Greenfield, on Thursday night, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) bungled a softball question on the break-even price of soybeans, a major Iowa crop.
Moderator Ron Steele first asked Greenfield about the break-even price of corn, which she correctly answered as approximately $3.68 a bushel.
He then turned to Ernst, a self-styled agricultural expert who grew up on a farm raising soybeans, and asked her about the break-even price of soybeans.
Ernst changed the subject to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, but Steele was having none of it.
"I might have missed it, but I don't think you answered my question," Steele said. "What's the break-even price for soybeans in Iowa? You grew up on a farm, you should know this."
Ernst hesitated, then told him he had asked about the break-even price for corn. Steele patiently explained that he had asked her opponent about corn and he was asking her about soybeans.
Ignoring the question, Ernst told him the break-even price of corn was "about $5.50." When pressed by Steele, she continued talking about corn, criticizing Greenfield's answer to the question.
She never did answer the question about the break-even price of soybeans.
Ernst sits on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, which authorizes most farming and conservation programs. She's also the chair of the Rural Development and Energy subcommittee, overseeing various U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.
Former South Bend, Indiana, mayor and former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg tweeted that it was "possibly the most Midwestern moment in the history of televised Senate debates."
But it was an odd gaffe for a senator who has frequently leveraged the fact that she grew up on a farm raising soybeans.
During her election campaign in 2014, Ernst emphasized her farming bona fides in an ad called "Squeal" in which, accompanied by video of hogs in pens, she said: "I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork." She ended the ad saying that Washington was full of big spenders: "Let's make 'em squeal."
In May of 2019, Ernst defended Donald Trump's trade war and tariffs against China, even while telling an interviewer on CNN: "This is a really difficult situation that the farmers are in. Just to remind the viewers that 1 in 5 jobs in Iowa is tied directly to trade. Most of that is around the farming sector, our agricultural sector. So it is very tense times."
Earlier that month, Ernst had dismissed the pain Trump was causing farmers with, "I'm just going to write it off as just his way of doing business."
Farmers nationwide had already been filing for bankruptcy at historically high rates when she made the remark.
In July of this year, Ernst tweeted another video boasting about being born and raised on a farm in Iowa, saying she continues to live there to this day and remains "connected" to farmers.
"I grew up on a farm in SW Iowa where we raised hogs, corn, & soybeans," she wrote in a tweet accompanying the video. "I understand the challenges our farmers face. Renewable fuels have become such an important part of our fabric across Iowa, and I'm continuing to fight for our farmers and producers every day."
At the Republican National Convention, Ernst positioned herself as an expert on agricultural economics and praised Trump for his agricultural policies.
She claimed that the proposed Green New Deal would "essentially ban animal agriculture."
Prior to Ernst's speech at the convention, Iowa Democratic Committee Chair Mark Smith said: "Tonight's speech is about trying to pull back in traditional Republican voters who are running away from her harmful record — seniors, farmers and rural Iowans who have been ignored for six years as Washington leaves them behind."
And even without her most recent gaffe, the outlook isn't good for Ernst's reelection.
Greenfield's campaign has raised twice as much money as Ernst's, and Ernst is trailing in every state poll. Her Democratic challenger has a 4.8-point lead on average, and Ernst's approval rating in Iowa is lower even than Trump's.
The price of soybeans may not be the only problem Ernst faces come Election Day.
Greenfield's campaign put out a statement following the soybean incident.
"Ernst tried to rewrite her failed record of voting against Iowans' health care, refused to come clean about her illegal dark money scandal, and failed to even recall the price of soybeans," it said. "Tonight's debate showed why Iowans are turning out in record numbers to support Theresa Greenfield in Iowa's pivotal U.S. Senate race."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.