DONNELLSON, Iowa – “Where did you get these apples?” asked Theresa Greenfield, the Democratic Senate candidate who became a pie taster on a farm in Southeast Iowa.
Steve, it was explained, had picked apples at Bob’s house. Bob gave them to Beth. Beth Howard then made a pie using her famous recipe and gifted Mrs. Greenfield a piece on the first stop of the day on her “Back On Our Feet” tour.
The candidate had finished her slice of the pie by the time the conversation turned to politics.
“Someone asked me what type of Democrat I am,” Ms. Greenfield said, before casting herself in the mold of Iowa moderates like Tom Harkin and Tom Vilsack. “And I said, ‘I’m a practical, common sense farm girl.'”
Republicans, however, called it radical disconnected.
“The angry crowd is out of control and Theresa Greenfield is their candidate,” said an anti-Greenfield ad from the Republican National Senate Committee. “They want to dismantle the police and put us all in danger.”
About a week before Election Day, labeling their opponents as radical became the closing message for Republicans in tight races across the country. While Democrats have focused on access to health care and on containing the coronavirus pandemic, most Republicans have adopted a grievance message – that democratic governance would bring socialism and left-wing extremism.
Ms Greenfield, like Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, has backed down on progressive issues such as single-payer health insurance, adding seats to the Supreme Court and the removal of police funding.
She spent her tour of Southeast Iowa talking about expanding job training programs and health care coverage through a public insurance option. She criticized Democrats for not prioritizing a bill on infrastructure and vocational education.
She rejected the Green New Deal, the sweeping climate bill backed by two progressive lawmakers, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
But that hasn’t stopped her opponent, outgoing Republican Joni Ernst, from calling her a secret socialist or someone who will become one once in Washington.
When Ms Ocasio-Cortez mentioned the Iowa race on Sunday in an interview with CNN, Ms Ernst’s campaign immediately sought to militarize the comment.
“Theresa Greenfield is a liberal who has the full support of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the author of the Green New Deal,” Ernst spokesperson Brendan Conley said in a statement. “Theresa Greenfield is backing extreme new environmental rules that would kill American jobs and hurt Iowa farmers, making it clear that Greenfield is perfect for New York or California, but bad for Iowa.”
The Republican strategy was laid out in a recent debate. At times, Ms Ernst has focused on her track record, trying to project the strength of an outgoing favorite. At other times, she accused Ms Greenfield of calling police ‘racist’ and supporting ‘Medicare for All’, which led to sharp exchanges during which the candidates spoke to each other. .
“I don’t support Medicare for all, but I support strengthening and improving the Affordable Care Act,” said Ms. Greenfield.
Republican efforts range from the presidential race to the Senate and even some local elections. At the top of the ticket, President Trump continues to ignore the story of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as a bipartisan candidate, instead portraying him as someone who promises a political revolution in the mold of Mr. Sanders.
On Saturday in suburban Wisconsin, President Trump said what most Republicans simply implied: “We should run against Bernie.”
Last week during the debate in Tennessee, Mr Biden argued that he beat Mr Sanders because of these differences, making an argument he used throughout his presidential run: the people American knows him and knows his record.
“I beat the socialist,” Biden said in a September interview with a Wisconsin network. “That’s how I was elected. That’s how I got the appointment. Do I look like a socialist? Look at my career – my whole career. I am not a socialist.
In Senate races, candidates like Ms. Greenfield, Mark Kelly in Arizona or Sara Gideon in Maine have articulated the version of the same argument. They barely mention – let alone approve – issues like Medicare or lawsuits. During her tour, Ms Greenfield stayed on the message – agriculture, jobs and healthcare – and called out Ms Ernst on these issues and the Republican response to the coronavirus.
In an interview, Ms Greenfield’s ease in rebutting accusations of radicalism showed how convinced some Democrats were increasingly that the Republican strategy of insult had not worked. The framing allowed Ms Greenfield to present positions like a public health insurance option as a compromise alternative. And like Mr Biden, she said she believed the Iowans knew her, which was part of the reason the race was close after she was once supposed to be a secure Republican seat.
Last week, a New York Times and Siena College poll found Ms Greenfield and Ms Ernst in a statistical tie.
“Winning in a state like Iowa is a lot like eating an elephant: we’re going to eat one bite at a time in a lot of different places,” Ms. Greenfield said. “I don’t see my neighbors as one party or another. I see them as independent thinkers and independent voters.
The fact that leading Democratic candidates feel free to distance themselves from the progressive policies that drive the national conversation is testament to the ideological diversity within the party. Progressives have shown their strength by sweeping a number of blue quarters in the party primaries. Still, the party united behind Mr. Biden, a moderate, in the presidential primary, indicating that defeating Mr. Trump remained a priority.
At the start of the primary, as Mr Biden lagged behind candidates like Mr Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, low-vote Democrats feared that the nomination of a progressive would make the job more difficult. difficult for more candidates in difficult districts and Senate. battlefield. Now, with Mr. Biden at the helm, many candidates in those states say the claims of “radical” and “socialist” are falling flat.
Michelle Smith, who leads Democrats in Jasper County, one of 31 counties in Iowa that went from supporting President Obama in 2012 to Mr. Trump in 2016, said the impact was a campaign where parties speak to different audiences. Republicans are trying to motivate their base and sow discord. Democrats are playing a persuasive game to get swinging and independent voters to support Mr. Biden.
Ms Smith said she was watching one number as Election Day approached: postal votes. County party registrants are evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and Independents, she said. But in what she described as a good sign for Democrats, their ballots were returned at a three-to-one rate over Republicans.
Ms Smith, and most state watchers, expect Republicans to catch up with some of that pitch with an in-person vote on November 3.
“Yeah, I know it’s my job to say Biden is going to win,” she said. “But to be honest, I think it’s too close to call right now.”
Jerry Hageman, a Waterloo labor activist who also works with the Alliance of Retired Americans, said unlike four years ago, there was less division between grassroots union members and management. Mr Hageman said based on Mr Biden’s campaign and Ms Greenfield’s battle against Ms Ernst, it seemed Republicans had not adjusted to the fact that they were not running against a candidate who has a bad reputation in rural and white America – as Mrs. Clinton did.
“There were people who told me bluntly that they couldn’t vote for Hillary. But they would support our candidates in the top-down ballot races, ”he said. “I think they did a better job selling Joe as a longtime friend from work.
This is a hallmark of the holiday change from 2016 throughout the post. During Ms Greenfield’s tour of farms, small businesses and vocational centers, the implicit message was clear: This Democrat understands rural Iowa.
Ryan Drew, president of the Southeast Iowa Building Trades, said her union members support Ms Greenfield and reject the idea that she was radical.
“All of these crazy ideas were for elementary school,” Drew said, referring to progressive policies like Medicare for all. “We have confidence in Theresa that she will stick to the fundamentals.”