GUTHRIE CENTER, Iowa—In her campaign appearances, GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst is composed, courteous, and emphatically unthreatening.
Her speeches focus less on ideology than biography, especially her experience commanding a transport company for the Iowa Army National Guard in the second Iraq War. Now a state senator, she talks less about Washington's failures than the success of what she calls "the Iowa way." Her grandest rhetorical flourish comes when she promises "common sense "¦ good government "¦ working for the people of Iowa."
And yet Ernst is proposing policies that would massively retrench and reshape the federal government, from eliminating the Education Department to partially privatizing Social Security. In the contrast between her mild manner and sweepingly ambitious agenda, Ernst embodies the pattern for the GOP Senate candidates most likely to join the upper chamber after next week's election.
In the Republican class of 2014, gone is the belligerence and rhetorical recklessness that doomed such Senate tea-party challengers as Sharron Angle in 2010 and Todd Akin in 2012. Yet a look at the candidates' agendas this year finds an almost indivisible consensus behind deeply conservative positions among the 14 nonincumbent Senate Republican contenders with a plausible chance of winning. (The 14 include the challengers for the 11 most threatened Democratic seats and the GOP nominees for Republican open seats in Georgia, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.)