Speed Reads

2020 debates

Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst stumbles over soybean question in debate against Democratic challenger

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield, held their third and final debate Thursday evening, both women appearing remotely. After about 20 minutes of technical problems, they fielded a series of questions on racism, protests, and agriculture. And Ernst appeared to be caught a little flatfooted on the farm front.

Ernst and Greenfield both grew up on Iowa farms, and when asked, they explained why they left agriculture — Greenfield, now a businesswoman, cited the farm bankruptcies of the 1980s and the havoc that wreaked on family farms; Ernst said her sister still runs the family farm but she went to college in part to escape abusive relationships. Moderator Ron Steele asked the candidates for the break-even price of key Iowa crops. Greenfield, who went first, correctly put the price for corn at about $3.68 a bushel.

Steele asked Ernst about soybeans, and when she responded by talking about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, he asked her again. Ernst suggested the break-even price for corn is about $5.50, and when given the chance later to answer again about soybeans, she said she doesn't think the break-even price for corn is $10.50.

Both candidates agreed that the anti-racism protests were good but that looting and vandalism are bad. Ersnt said she doesn't think "systemic racism" is real, because "I don't believe that entire systems of people — of people — are racist. There are racists out there." Greenfield said "systemic racism does not mean that any one individual is a racist but rather that we have to take a look at the discrimination across our systems — housing, health care, education, finance, and so many other things," adding, "Black and brown communities have faced discrimination and systemic racism for generations."

Ernst and Greenfield are locked in a very competitive race. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll last month found Greenfield up by 3 percentage points, 45 percent to 42 percent, within the poll's margin of error. Greenfield leads by 4.8 points in the RealClearPolitics average.