This year's Iowa Senate race—a key contest that could determine whether Republicans gain control of the upper body—has so far not been shaped by titanic policy issues. Instead, farm animals have played a larger role. GOP state Sen. Joni Ernst, who is up against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in this much-watched face-off, got a boost from an ad in which she bragged about castrating hogs. Braley has been hurt by the news that he allegedly threatened* a lawsuit against a neighbor whose chickens had wandered into his yard. Ernst has accused Braley of sexism for including stock footage of baby chickens—i.e., "chicks"—in an ad that asserted she had not made a "peep" about cutting government pork.
This may not be shocking for a Senate race in the Hawkeye State. But what is surprising is that the campaign has not been much affected by a series of controversial, extreme, or just plain dumb remarks Ernst has made—and her subsequent denials that she said them.
Here are a few examples of Ernst's out-there statements:
Ernst has alleged that the federal government is partnering with the United Nations to force Iowans off their land and into urban cores as part of a conspiracy called Agenda 21. At a campaign event last November, she said:
All of us agreed that Agenda 21 is a horrible idea. One of those implications to Americans, again, going back to what did it does do to the individual family here in the state of Iowa, and what I've seen, the implications that it has here is moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers, and then telling them that you don't have property rights anymore. These are all things that the UN is behind, and it's bad for the United States and bad for families here in the state of Iowa.
At a candidate forum in January, she said that President Obama has "become a dictator" and should be impeached.
Meeting with business leaders in late August, she complained about the existence of federal minimum wage. Here's what she said, per the Mason City (Iowa) Globe Gazette:
The minimum wage is a safety net. For the federal government to set the minimum wage for all 50 states is ridiculous…The standard of living in Iowa is different than it is in New York or California or Texas. One size does not fit all.
She told the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition last September that federal laws can be nullified by states:
She told the Des Moines Register editorial board in May that the United States really did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Per my colleague Pat Caldwell:
"We don't know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in," she said, "however, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." When a Register reporter quizzed her on what information she has, Ernst said, "My husband served in Saudi Arabia as the Army Central Command sergeant major for a year and that's a hot-button topic in that area."
She said at a GOP primary debate in May that abortion providers "should be punished" and zygotes should be granted full constitutional protection if the state passed a "personhood" amendment—and in 2013, sponsored a bill in the state Senate to make that possible.
Ernst is hailed by supporters as a straight-talking candidate who will stick to her conservative principles. But throughout this campaign, she has been quick to walk away from her most bizarre statements as soon as she's challenged on them.
When asked by Yahoo News last month about her suggestion that an international cabal would relocate her constituents to Des Moines, Ernst said, "I don't think that the UN Agenda 21 is a threat to Iowa farmers." When asked about impeachment in July, she insisted, "I have not seen any evidence that the president should be impeached." She added that "obviously" the president is not a dictator. In June, referring to the federal minimum wage, she said that, contra whatever she said earlier that month, "I never called for the abolishment of it. Never." In May, she walked back her weapons of mass destruction claim and conceded that Iraq had none at the time of the US invasion. Recently, Ernst attacked Braley for proposing an adjustment to the Social Security retirement age, while simultaneously making an identical proposal herself.
It's Braley's poultry-related gaffes—and not Ernst's Palinesque positions and subsequent clarifications—that have made the biggest political dent; the most recent poll of the race found Ernst with a 6-point edge. It's just easier to understand a claim about someone's character than it is an international conspiracy. "Something like Agenda 21—who knows about that?" says Tim Hagle, a political scientist at the University of Iowa. "But they understand the idea that my neighbor is suing me over chickens."
*Correction: This piece originally stated that Braley had sued his neighbor.
Milton Whitley's gift to Texas was called twisted yam on a stick. You take a yam, cut it into a spiral, deep fry it, cover it in butter, smother it in sugar, coat it in cinnamon, eat. Is it healthy? Of course it's healthy—yam is a superfood. The final product was a finalist at the 2009 Texas State Fair, before losing out to the eventual winner, deep-fried butter.
A native of Dallas County, Whitley started off as a catfish cook and worked his way up the comfort food chain to an appearance on national television presenting Oprah and Gayle with a homemade sweet potato pie. He now teaches science at a public school. But last year he set his sights on something more daunting than the fried-food contest at the state fair—getting elected to the Texas Legislature as a Democrat. Whitley, who's running in the Dallas-area 113th state House district, is one of a dozen candidates selected as part of a trial program for Battleground Texas, the Democratic organizing project launched last spring by a cast of Obama campaign veterans who are hoping to turn the nation's largest red state blue.
It's game day in Baton Rouge, and the bro in the purple shirt wants Mary Landrieu's help doing a keg stand.
Landrieu, elected three times by the narrowest of margins, is once again locked in a tight reelection campaign, this time against GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy. With six weeks until Election Day, every moment counts. She spent her Saturday morning at a beach near Lake Charles, in the state's southwest corner, taking part in a cleanup effort cosponsored by Citgo, the Venezuelan oil company, pegged to the anniversary of Hurricane Rita. As a member of the president's party in a state where the president is deeply unpopular, this event neatly encapsulates Landrieu's strategy: Keep it local. She'll fight for coastal restoration, but she'll also fight for the oil and gas industry, and with her seniority and connections, she'll cut deals to help out both.
The other part of her pitch is that she is an independent-minded daughter of Louisiana who is in touch with the needs and traditions of her constituents. Over the last month or so, that part of her messaging has taken a hit. First, the Washington Postreported that Landrieu listed her primary residence as her parents' New Orleans home but spent most of her time in Washington, DC. Seeing an opportunity, a one-time Republican challenger filed a lawsuit to have her taken off the ballot (that suit was thrown out). Thus, here we are on the edge of the LSU's quad, four hours before the Tigers kick off against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, contemplating keg stands.
North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis with state Rep. Ruth Samuelson.
In 1898, furious that a mixed-race coalition had swept the city's municipal elections, white supremacists burned down a black-owned newspaper in Wilmington, North Carolina; overthrew the local government; and killed at least 25 black residents in a week of rioting. It was one of the worst single incidents of racially motivated violence in American history. But in 2007, when a nonpartisan commission recommended that the state legislature pass a resolution formally apologizing for the massacre, Republican Senate nominee Thom Tillis, then a first-term state representative, rose to block it.
"It is time to move on," he wrote in a message to constituents. "In supporting the apology for slavery, most members felt it was an opportunity to recognize a past wrong and move on to pressing matters facing our State. HB 751 and others in the pipeline are redundant and they are consuming time and attention that should be dedicated to addressing education, transportation, and immigration problems plaguing this State."
But at the time, Tillis—who showed up in Wilmington on Tuesday with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in tow—offered another explanation for opposing the measure: Not all whites had participated in the riots. So Tillis pushed for an amendment introduced by a fellow state representative that would have added language to the bill commemorating the heroic white Republican lawmakers who had opposed the violence. "The proposed amendment would have acknowledged the historical fact that the white Republican government joined with black citizens to oppose the rioters," he argued. The amendment failed, and Tillis ended up voting no on the final version.
Although North Carolina has been targeted by the GOP as a top pickup opportunity, Tillis has struggled to gain traction—in part because of his leadership role in the unpopular state legislature. In the most recent poll, he trailed Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent, by nine points.
A jury found former Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell guilty on 11 counts of corruption on Thursday, ending a bizarre trial that featured bad shrimp, a broken marriage, and non-FDA approved dietary supplements. McDonnell's wife, Maureen, was found guilty on eight charges.
The charges stemmed from the couple's relationship with Johnnie Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific, Inc., a pharmaceutical company. Williams, dubbed the "tic-tac man" by the governor's staff, was pushing two new drugs, Antabloc and CigRx, and needed help getting the pills into doctors' offices. He lavished gifts on the McDonnells, paying for their daughter's wedding, taking Maureen on shopping sprees, and letting the couple borrow his "James Bond car"—an Aston Martin—for vacations. At one point, he bid against himself at a charity auction to win a free weekend with Maureen. In turn, the McDonnells became Star Scientific boosters. Maureen went so far as to pitch Antabloc to prospective first lady Ann Romney, telling her it could help her MS.
What's there to say about the trial? BuzzFeed's Katherine Miller has the fullest summation of what happened, but let's just call it a mess, a soap opera, the world's worst "Modern Love" column in legalese. It was also a useful corrective to the facade politicians sometimes present when they trot their families in front of the cameras before trying to legislate yours. McDonnell, whose master's thesis at Pat Robertson's Regent University made the case for covenant marriage and subservient roles for wives, built his defense on the theory that his own union was too much of a failure for him and his wife to mount a conspiracy. According to the governor, his wife was a paranoid loon who had a crush on the businessman who bought her nice dresses.
At one point, a former aide to Maureen McDonnell—who called the former first lady a "nutbag"—testified that she had received a text message from the governor's wife alleging that the couple's chef was attempting to ruin Christmas by serving them bad shrimp. Fed up with the McDonnells (who had accused him of stealing food), the chef, Todd Schneider, handed a trove of documents to federal investigators in 2012 that led to the probe. The lesson, as always, is to be nice to the people who prepare your food.