Romney wades into crowded Iowa primary

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Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is fundraising for Joni Ernst in a crowded Republican primary in Iowa. 

The former Massachusetts governor penned a fundraising email sent out by the Ernst campaign Wednesday, touting her as the best candidate to flip the open Senate seat in November. 

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“It is going to take an incredibly strong Republican to defeat the Democrats as they look to defend this open seat that has been in their control for over three decades,” Romney wrote. “Thankfully, Iowa Republicans have such a candidate in Joni Ernst.”

Romney said the seat left open by Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) decision to not seek reelection opens up a “ripe” target for the GOP. He touted Ernst’s military service in the National Guard and time in the state Senate. 

“As a mother, soldier and proven conservative, Joni has the kind of experience, skill set and discipline it will take to not only win this important seat, but to also take Iowa values to help turn around the mess in Washington,” he said, citing her opposition to ObamaCare and her help to solidify a tax decrease in the state. 

Ernst is facing off in a crowded GOP field that includes former energy executive Mark Jacobs, U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker and radio host Sam Clovis. The winner will need to secure 35 percent of the vote in order to avoid a primary runoff. 

The winner will face off in the general election against Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), behind whom the Democratic Party has solidified.

The Iowa Democratic Party quickly attacked the endorsement.

“It’s unsurprising that Joni Ernst has garnered Mitt Romney’s endorsement, since they both share anti-middle class policies that put the interests of oil billionaires above those of Iowa’s families," party chairman Scott Brennan said in a statement. 

In the 2012 GOP presidential primary, Romney initially appeared to win Iowa, the nation's first caucus state. However, a final tally found Romney trailed eventual winner Rick Santorum by 34 votes.