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Sen. Joni Ernst on the Iowa Caucuses and more

Ernst on Iowa, the Senate map and Haley

As focus turns to the Hawkeye State for caucus night, we caught up with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) — the highest-ranking Republican woman in the Senate — for her views on the presidential race.

Ernst hasn’t publicly picked a side. But that’s not to say she doesn’t have thoughts on the Republican presidential field.

Praise for Haley: We asked Ernst about the significance of having female representation on the GOP presidential ticket in 2024.

Ernst took the opportunity to praise former South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. 

“I don’t want to get into the gender wars, but I do think someone with Nikki Haley’s foreign policy and executive experience — having been a governor — she’s an incredible candidate and brings a lot of value,” Ernst said.

Haley would be “a great selection” either as president or vice president, Ernst added. 

In many polls, Haley has passed Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis as the top alternative to former President Donald Trump. Trump, however, still leads by wide margins in every state except New Hampshire.

What Ernst is looking for: We wondered what qualities Ernst would like in a presidential candidate. Besides the usual GOP gripes about “Bidenomics” and the southern border crisis, her response included a subtle dig at Trump’s isolationist worldview.  

“We need someone that is smart when it comes to foreign policy and the way we interact with international partners,” Ernst said. “I believe in ‘America First,’ but not ‘America Alone.’ We need to leverage our friendships to make sure the world is a stable place.”

During his presidency, Trump frequently irked America’s traditional allies and sided with its adversaries. More recently, he has energized the anti-Ukraine funding wing of the Republican Party, arguing the United States shouldn’t continue assisting that nation’s fight against the Russian invasion. Ernst is among a group of hawkish Senate Republicans who strongly support Ukraine.

Senate map: Ernst identified Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Bob Casey (Pa.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) as the most vulnerable incumbents. 

She added that West Virginia will be a solid Republican pick up since Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) decided to retire at the end of his term.

“Steve Daines has done a fabulous job,” Ernst said of the NRSC chair. “The recruitment of candidates has gone well and we have solid candidates with great life experiences.”

Caucus day weather: It’s going to be a historically cold day in Iowa tonight, a quirk that Ernst says will throw a late twist into the race. 

“It may affect voter turnout, but I don’t know if it will break one way or another,” Ernst said.

— Max Cohen

Presented by AARP

AARP knows older voters. 

We’ve made it our business to know what matters to people 50 and over—like we know that protecting Social Security and supporting family caregivers are among their top priorities. Learn more from our polling in Pennsylvania.

Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.