2020 Election

Chuck Schumer Is Trying to Clear the Iowa Senate Primary

3 minute read

At a time when Democrats are largely focused on the presidential primary, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to clear the way for a woman challenging Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst.

A source familiar with the situation told TIME that Schumer flew J.D. Scholten, the Democrat who gained a national profile when he came close to beating Iowa Rep. Steve King, to Washington in March to discuss his plans and later attempted to dissuade him from jumping into the race in a phone call.

Few Democrats in the state have the statewide recognition to pull off a competitive bid for the Republican’s seat, but currently Theresa Greenfield, the president of a Des Moines real estate business, is the frontrunner for the nomination. She is backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Meanwhile, Scholten has been openly considering jumping into the race as well.

“We don’t need a primary,” Schumer told Scholten on a phone call at the end of May, according to the source.

After losing the race in 2018, Scholten’s political future became an Iowa parlor game. In the meantime, he launched a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness on the Earned Income Tax Credit. But perhaps more notably, he’s played an active role in the 2020 presidential primary, often appearing alongside the candidates.

“There’s a lot of things that I’m waiting on. There’s a lot of variables,” Scholten told TIME on his decision about what to do next. “I 100 percent respect Senator Schumer and his decision and the DSCC’s decision, however I feel like I’m against … trickle-down economics, and I am also against trickle-down politics.”

The DSCC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The other option for Scholten could be running in the 4th District again, where he’s already a known commodity and has already run a competitive race. Scholten said he’s looking to see how the Republican primary in the fourth district plays out, what second quarter fundraising numbers look like and to see how the Senate race unfolds.

Greenfield announced she would be running for Ernst’s seat in June, and has since campaigned on her farming roots and shared the story of her first husband, a union electrical worker, dying on the job. She notes it as a time her family depended on Social Security to help them get by.

She previously attempted to run for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional seat, which then belonged to former Rep. David Young, but ended her campaign after a signature forgery scandal by her campaign manager left her short of the signatures she needed to qualify for the primary ballot. Greenfield’s former campaign manager, Noah Wasserman, took out an ad in the Des Moines Register earlier this year to publicly apologize for faking the signatures on the paperwork.

Ernst was first elected to the Senate in 2014; this is her first reelection race in a state that yielded Democrats three out of four House seats in the 2018 midterms.

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Write to Lissandra Villa at lissandra.villa@time.com