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Fact Check: Attack Ads in GOP Senate Race

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Now at more than a week since the relatively respectful Republican Senate debate in Cedar Rapids, more attack ads are out in the final weeks before the June 3 primary.

The campaign of retired businessman Mark Jacobs takes on State Senator Joni Ernst. In recent weeks, Ernst has gained attention in national political circles for her television ads where she talked of castrating hogs or, more recently, an ad called “Shot”, where Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, fires away at a shooting range.

The Jacobs ad focuses on Ernst’s missed votes in the 2014 legislature, claiming the senator from Red Oak has missed nearly 40% of her votes.

A KCRG-TV 9 investigation of the Iowa Senate Journal, the daily reports when the legislature was in session, revealed that Ernst recorded 155 votes when the full Senate was voting and was marked “absent” for 111 votes, by far the most in the 50-member Senate. (Note on methodology: We recorded any Ernst vote that required a “yea” or “nay” vote by the full body of the 2014 Iowa Senate. There were 67 session days where this type of voting occurred.)

The attack ad against Ernst also notes her absences on Senate votes for elderly abuse (Senate File 2239, March 4, 2014) and human trafficking (SF 2311, February 27, 2014). Neither was a controversial vote as both passed the Senate without a ‘nay’ vote.

Jacobs is also facing attack ads that label him as a “Texas millionaire” or a “Texas businessman”. He grew up in Iowa before attending college at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Jacobs has made his business experience a cornerstone of his campaign for the open U.S. Senate seat. The most poignant years of experience came when Jacobs was the CEO of Texas-based Reliant Energy.

PAC groups American Heartland and Trees of Liberty have been running attack ads against Jacobs for weeks, trying to tie him to policies favored by President Obama and other Democrats. The Des Moines Register reported Jacobs made financial donations in 2009 to then-Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who had just switched parties from Republican to Democrat.

Jacobs and Ernst have been engaged in plenty of political battle in recent weeks as both appear at the top of the rather sparse polling on this five-candidate race for the Republican nomination. A May 1 Harper Poll of “500 likely voters” put Ernst with a 33-23 lead over Jacobs, with Sam Clovis running in third place at 14%. Before that, a WFB/Polling Company survey of “223 registered voters” found Ernst with a slight edge, 23-20.

The June 3 primary winner must reach a 35% threshold to be declared the nominee that night. Otherwise, the nomination goes to a later convention for a decision.

Not only with television attack ads but also websites have been launched to combat opponents. is paid for by the Trees of Liberty PAC organization while, paid for by Jacobs For Iowa, follows the theme of the recent attack ads.

UI Political Science Professor Tim Hagle said he was surprised the race took this long for the bare knuckles to emerge.

“It’s heavy for Iowa and we’re not used to it as much here, especially given that it’s been fairly congenial so far,” said Hagle. “When they start to throw those elbows, we tend to notice.”

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