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By Molly O'Connor August 1, 2014

U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst does not support a national minimum wage, says her opponent

A new ad from Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Bruce Braley focuses on the minimum wage as part of his campaign’s effort to paint Ernst as "too extreme" for Iowa.

It uses video and audio clips of Ernst speaking at primary debates and in interviews as evidence for the claim that she does not "think there should be a national minimum wage."

According to the most recent polls, Ernst and Braley are nearly tied. We wanted to know if this latest attack ad was accurate: Does Ernst oppose a national minimum wage?

This isn’t the first attack on Ernst for her position on the minimum wage. In a June ad, the Iowa Democratic Party accused Ernst of flip-flopping on the issue.

We decided to take a look back at Ernst’s public statements and positions on the minimum wage, but it can get confusing. So we compiled a timeline to see if her views changed.

January 2014

On Jan. 9, 2014 Braley released a report on minimum wage that suggested raising the national figure to $10.10 an hour. Ernst disagreed. "I believe that businesses will do what is best for their business," she said in an interview the same day. "I don’t know that the government needs to be stepping in and telling them this is what you will do."

February 2014

Ernst’s opposition to the federal government’s role in raising a minimum wage continued. "Government and government-mandated wage increases are not the solution," she said, as reported in a Quad-City Times story.

March 2014

At a candidate forum held by the National Federation of Independent Business on March 18, 2014, Ernst said this: "I do believe it is best left up to the states. Our state economies are much different from state to state, so I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in setting the minimum wage." Ernst also talked about the great opportunity she had working a minimum wage job as a biscuit maker at Hardee’s. "I think $7.25 is appropriate for Iowa," she concluded.

April 2014

In an April debate Ernst said she would not raise Iowa’s minimum wage. She argued that minimum wage jobs were "introductory level" positions and eventually workers could progress into better paying jobs as they acquired more skills.

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June 2014

Ernst appeared on Iowa Public Radio for a candidate profile on June 1, 2014. When asked about increasing the minimum wage, Ernst responded with a familiar line. "I do not support a federal minimum wage. Every state has a different economy, different cost of living. I don’t believe that’s the role of the federal government," she said.

But she seemed to soften that position in late June. After Ernst won the Republican primary she suggested the minimum wage should be left as it is but not raised.

"I never called for the abolishment of it. Never," Ernst said to U.S. News and World Report on June 23, 2014. "I’m saying I don’t support a $10.10 minimum wage.

This is somewhat contradictory as her earlier comments suggested she saw no role for the federal government in setting the minimum wage.

When we asked about it, Ernst spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said Ernst believes that decisions about the minimum wage should be made "locally, not in Washington." Ernst believes that "Iowans know what’s best for Iowa and that’s where these decisions belong -- on the state level."

July 2014

PolitiFact asked the Ernst campaign on July 31, 2014, about Ernst's position on the minimum wage.

PolitiFact: "Does she believe that the federal government should play any role at all in deciding the minimum wage? Or should it be left up to the states entirely?"

Ernst spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel: "While in college Joni worked for minimum wage at Hardee’s and believes the minimum wage is a safety net. Joni does not believe in Washington’s one size fits all approach; that’s why any decision pertaining to the minimum wage rate going forward needs to be decided locally, not in Washington. What’s right for New York or California, is not necessarily right for Iowa."

PolitiFact: "In a couple of debates and interviews she refers to the minimum wage as a 'safety net.' What exactly does she mean by that?"

Hamel: "The baseline minimum wage that has been set."

Our ruling

Braley said that Ernst does not support a "national minimum wage." Ernst's public statements have been confusing at times, but overall, she has said repeatedly that states should decide the minimum wage, not the federal government. She's also called the minimum wage a "safety net," and her campaign told us that by that she means the current baseline minimum wage.  Overall, we rate Braley's statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

Bruce Braley campaign ad, "Minimum," July 29, 2014

Iowa Democratic Party, "You Can’t Trust Joni Ernst on the Minimum Wage," June 25, 2014

Iowa Public Radio, "Candidate Profile: Joni Ernst," June 1, 2014

Radio Iowa, "Iowa GOP candidates for US Senate asked if they support a minimum wage hike," May 20, 2014

Iowa Press, "Iowa Press Debate: U.S. Senate Republican Primary," April 24, 2014

NFIB Small Business, "Iowa U.S. Senate Candidates Forum in Des Moines, Iowa on March 18, 2014," accessed July 30, 2014  

US World and News Report, "Can Joni Ernst Be Stopped?" June 23, 2014

Des Moines Register , "Small businesses ask Braley how to pay for higher minimum wage," July 29, 2014

Des Moines Register, "Braley unleashes minimum wage attack ad on Ernst," July 29, 2014

Quad City Times, "Braley pushes minimum wage hike in Senate race," January 11, 2014

Quad City Times, "Report: Minimum wage boost would cost jobs, lower poverty," February 18, 2014

The Gazette, "Fact Check: Joni Ernst’s minimum wage stance," June 27, 2014

Politico, "Bruce Braley reboot starts with minimum-wage attack against Joni Ernst," July 29, 2014

Real Clear Politics, "Iowa Senate - Ernst vs. Braley," accessed July 30, 2014

Congressman Bruce Braley Congressional Report, "Restoring the Minimum Wage," January 9, 2014

Email interview with Gretchen Hamel, spokeswoman for Joni Ernst, July 31, 2014

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U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst does not support a national minimum wage, says her opponent

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