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Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst doesn’t rule out endorsing Trump but calls Nikki Haley ‘a great candidate’

Ernst hasn’t endorsed a candidate ahead of the Iowa caucuses Monday.
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Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, declined Sunday to endorse a Republican presidential candidate a day before the Iowa caucuses but said she would not rule out backing former President Donald Trump if he wins in the state.

In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Ernst also said when asked about former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s favorable polling in a general election matchup against President Joe Biden that Haley is a “great candidate” and has experience on key issues that could resonate with Iowa Republicans.

Trump has a nearly 30-point lead in the final NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll before Monday’s caucuses. The poll also shows Haley narrowly ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with 20% versus his 16%.

“Meet the Press” moderator Kristen Welker asked Ernst about her response to recent polling.

“In our poll, [Haley] comes in second place,” Welker said. “But if you look at the polls overall, she does best against President Biden in a general election campaign. Former President Trump is tied, effectively, with President Biden. If Republicans want to win back the White House, is Nikki Haley your best bet?”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks at the Capitol on Jan. 9, 2024.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

Ernst responded: “If you look at the issues that are top of mind for Iowa Republicans, they are the economy, they’ve suffered under President Biden, it is the southern border and the flow of illegal migrants into the United States. But overall, if you look at national security, protecting our borders and pushing back against our adversaries worldwide, Nikki Haley does have the experience there, and she’s really spoke to that to the Iowa voters. So that may be one of the tipping points that resonate with so many different voters.”

Asked whether she plans to endorse whichever candidate emerges as the winner after the Iowa caucuses, Ernst said, “It’ll depend — I have gone round and round in my mind,” but she acknowledged that Trump is the front-runner thus far.

“But it’s not a foregone conclusion,” she said. “So we’ll see who comes out the winner here in the Iowa caucuses. We’ll know that tomorrow night, and then we’ll know how to move forward.”

Pressed again about whether she would endorse Trump if he wins the caucuses, Ernst repeated her refusal to weigh in but indicated she had made up her mind whom she would caucus for.

“We’ll see the margin. I guess I am assuming that President Trump wins, but it could be any one of these fantastic candidates,” she said. “So again, we’ll see who emerges. I’ve made up my decision on who I will caucus for — it is a private ballot. And I would expect that we’ll have a very good turnout. But again, Kristen, I’m not going to tip my hand to who I might be supporting.”

Ernst went on to say that nearly all the candidates have reached out to her for her endorsement, but she did not rule out endorsing Trump if he wins the nomination.

“No, I’m not ruling that out at all. But certainly we want to let Iowans make that decision,” she said.

The new NBC News/Des Moines Register poll found that the majority of likely Republican caucusgoers said they will vote for Trump in the general election if he wins the GOP nomination, but nearly half of Haley’s supporters in Iowa said they would vote for Biden over Trump in a general election matchup.

“Haley is consolidating the anti-Trump vote,” pollster J. Ann Selzer said. “She does well with the people who define themselves as anti-Trump.”