US election: why the price of soybeans could swing the Senate for the Democrats

An agricultural faux pas could hand control of the chamber to Joe Biden’s party

Senator Joni Ernst
Joni Ernst is facing a close race as she seeks to defend her seat in the US Senate
(Image credit: 2020 Getty Images)

Joni Ernst, the Republican senator from Iowa, won her seat by nine points in 2014. And her home state backed Donald Trump for president by the same margin four years ago.

Yet she now finds herself locked in “an unexpectedly close reelection fight”, Vox reports - and one which may come down to the price of soybeans.

During a televised debate last week, Ernst was asked at what price soybean farmers would break even. She hesitated, “delivered a long response about trade policy”, says CNN, before finally saying it was “probably about $5.50 (£4.20)” - just over half the actual figure.

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In other settings, such a slip might be forgiven, says The Times. “If you are the Republican senator for the heavily rural state of Iowa, however, ignorance in this field is a big mistake.”

It didn’t help that her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield, “nailed an answer about the price of corn during the same debate”, adds CNN.

Ernst’s soybean snafu may “not only help determine whether she is re-elected next week but also which party controls the Senate for the next two years”, says The Times, “with significant ramifications, especially if Joe Biden defeats President Trump.”

However, says CNN, “a bigger challenge for Ernst could be the headwinds she is encountering” from the president himself, who may well lose in Iowa.

Ernst has allied herself closely with Trump: she was the only senator up for re-election who spoke at his convention in August and has claimed that he invited her to be his running mate in 2016.

Her hopes - and that of the Republican majority in the Senate - may now depend on another forecasting error. The race appears to be neck and neck, says The Times, but “polls in 2016 overstated Democratic support by 4.3 points and in the 2018 midterms by 3.7 points”.

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