Joni Ernst says she’ll support Trump, Cruz if they are GOP nominee

Sen. Joni Ernst speaks to a crowd outside Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday.

Alex Hanson

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said Tuesday she still has no plans to endorse a Republican candidate before the Feb. 1 Iowa Caucus, but she’ll eventually support the GOP nominee, whoever it is — even anti-establishment candidates such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and businessman Donald Trump.

While she’s staying neutral, she told the Iowa State Daily on Tuesday that she wants to continue welcoming every candidate to the first-in-the-nation voting state that elected her to the U.S. Senate in 2014.

“I hope they spend a lot of time here and I hope that our Iowans delve into the policies behind those candidates,” Ernst said.

When asked about if she would support fellow Cruz or Trump — both political outsiders who have a commanding lead in the state — she said “absolutely” that she would throw her support behind them.

“Whoever our Republican nominee is, again I just want to fully understand the policies behind that candidate, and then I’ll get out there with our nominee and ensure a Republican victory coming up in the fall,” Ernst said.

Iowa’s members have been split on endorsing candidates, with Rep. Steve King endorsing Cruz, while Rep. Dave Loebsack decided to back Clinton. U.S. Reps. Rod Blum and David Young are staying neutral, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a Daily interview in September that’s he’ll also remain neutral, which he confirmed as recently as Tuesday.

Mack Shelley, university professor of political science, said Ernst and, to a larger extent, Grassley, both have name recognition and credibility among Republicans in the state that could potentially change some voters’ minds on selecting a candidate.

“She certainly has a strong base among Republicans [in the state],” Shelley said, adding that her defeat of then-U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley launched her into national spotlight.

Ernst said by not endorsing a nominee, she is open to everyone, and looks forward to campaigning with them.

“I think anybody on the Republican ticket is quite better qualified at representing America’s interests rather than a Bernie Sanders or a Hillary Cilnton,” Ernst said.