Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst (R) scored a major, albeit unintuitive endorsement on Monday morning, when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced that it is supporting her campaign.
The endorsement is somewhat surprising, given that Ernst — a second-term state senator and a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard — is facing former Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs in the Republican primary. Although Jacobs has used his extensive business experience as the basis for his campaign, the Chamber believes that Ernst is the better candidate for business.
“Joni understands that big government is an impediment to job creation, and that the best way to turn the economy around and create jobs is through pro-growth economic policies,” Chamber political director Rob Engstrom said in a statement. “The U.S Chamber is proud to stand with Joni and highlight her work removing regulatory barriers and encouraging competition in Iowa. In today’s economy, that’s the type of leadership we need in Washington.”
The endorsement also appears to be inconsistent with the group’s outspoken support for comprehensive immigration reform efforts. The Chamber has made it clear that reform is among its top legislative priorities — on Monday, Chamber president Tom Donahoe went as far as to claim that “if Republicans don’t do it, they shouldn’t bother to run a candidate in 2016” — but if Ernst joins Congress, she would be an impediment to such efforts. Ernst has declared that she is against all “amnesty” efforts, and suggests enforcing existing immigration laws instead of pursuing new legislation.
“We’ve talked a lot about the ‘Gang of Eight’ with immigration, and I don’t support that. I think that’s going in the wrong direction,” Ernst said at an Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition event in September 2013. “So first, secure the border. Second, start enforcing the laws that are on the books now.”
Ernst is not the only Republican who opposes immigration reform, but has still received a Chamber of Commerce endorsement. As Salon’s Jim Newell points out, Chamber-backed candidates Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) are all outspoken opponents of reform efforts.
The Chamber is one of two major groups to endorse Ernst on Tuesday; the National Rifle Association also announced its support her for campaign. The two groups join former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Ernst’s suddenly crowded corner.
The high-profile support could give Ernst a much-needed fundraising boost. She is currently being greatly outraised and outspent by Jacobs and the Democratic frontrunner in the race, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley.
Despite her financial disadvantage, Ernst has been steadily rising in the polls, and now leads Jacobs by 10 percent in The Huffington Post’s polling average.
The endorsements also provide Ernst with a welcome opportunity to change the subject; for the past several days, Ernst’s campaign had been managing questions about the senator’s disastrous interview with the Des Moines Register, in which she falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
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