MUSCATINE, Iowa | Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden took on Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst on Tuesday for saying the caucuses are a referendum on his calamity-prone son Hunter Biden.
Mr. Biden countered that a vote for him in next week’s Iowa caucuses is a vote against Ms. Ernst carrying President Trump’s water in Washington.
“You Iowa caucus-goers have a chance to do two things,” Mr. Biden said at a campaign stop in this small town along the Mississippi River. “You can ruin Donald Trump’s night by caucusing with me and ruin Joni Ernst’s night as well.”
Mr. Biden targeted the Iowa Republican after she told reporters on Capitol Hill that Monday’s caucuses will give voters a chance to weigh in on the allegations of corruption that the GOP has leveled against Mr. Biden and his son.
“Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening,” Ms. Ernst said Monday. “And I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus-goers. Will they be supporting Biden at this point? Not certain about that.”
Ms. Ernst won her seat in the GOP wave in 2014 and is betting that her alliance with Mr. Trump will strengthen her reelection chances in November.
An Iraq War veteran, Ms. Ernst won the seat that Democrat Tom Harkin had held for nearly 30 years before announcing his retirement. She ran as a Washington outsider and was elected as part of the GOP wave that flipped control of the upper chamber.
She has since been elected co-chairwoman of the Senate GOP conference and has been one of Mr. Trump’s most reliable allies in Congress, defending him against the Democrats’ impeachment push.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden said Ms. Ernst’s comments show that Mr. Trump and his allies are “scared to death” of him leading the 2020 Democratic ticket.
“She spilled the beans, she just came out and just flat said it,” he said. “Pretty subtle, huh?”
The back-and-forth was a reminder that control of the Senate is also up for grabs in the November elections.
Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial has put a bright spotlight on swing-state senators running in tough reelection battles, including in Arizona, Colorado and Maine.
Ms. Ernst appears to be on safer footing.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report ranks her reelection race as “likely Republican.”
Still, some of her 2014 supporters have soured on her.
“From my view, she has been a Trump clone for the past three-plus years,” said Cal Parrott, an anti-Trump Republican who is considering backing Mr. Biden in the 2020 election. “She has supported his tariffs which has, in my view, been very detrimental to the farm economy of Iowa.”
Paul Schumacher, 70, said Ms. Ernst’s comment about Mr. Biden feeds into lingering concerns that she has become too partisan and too willing to thoughtlessly follow Mr. Trump.
“I think she has fallen into this trap with the Republicans … hanging onto Trump’s apron,” he said.
Asked whether he plans to vote for her again, he said it is “iffy.”
• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at email@example.com.
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