Would Tom Harkin make remarks about the relative attractiveness of a combat veteran and state Senator named “John Ernst” if he was a Republican running for office? That’s the question Joni Ernst wants Tom Harkin and Democrats to answer after the retiring Senator’s dismissive remarks about Ernst last week, which surfaced last night. Appearing today on Fox and Friends, Ernst tells Steve Doocy that the comments “greatly offended” her, as do Democrat demagoguery about the so-called “war on women” (via Jeff Dunetz):

I was very offended that Senator Harkin would say that. I think it’s unfortunate that he and many of their party believe that you can’t be a real woman if you’re conservative and you’re female. I believe that if my name would have been John Ernst, attached to my resume, Senator Harkin would not have said those thing.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza can’t quite grasp what Harkin wanted to do with these comments, which he noted were not off the cuff but seem to have been carefully prepared:

Here’s a Fix rule for politicians. Never, ever, ever comment on someone else’s personal appearance. Nothing good can ever come of it.

Retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin just broke this rule into a million pieces. … If you watch the video, what Harkin said isn’t just him riffing and going off script. Nope, he has clearly given some forethought to what he said and doesn’t think it’s sexist or problematic. He likes the line. He thinks it’s cute and clever and the audience seems at least slightly amused.

And as for Ernst’s observation about what would be said about “John Ernst,” Cillizza is in full agreement:

She is exactly right. The relative attractiveness of “John Ernst” would not likely be a focus for Harkin.

Give Cillizza credit for covering this, and Fox News too. We’ll see whether the rest of the media holds Harkin and the Braley campaign accountable for it, and whether anyone thinks to connect this to the Gillibrand story from this summer that captivated the national media at the time.

Meanwhile, the final Quinnipiac poll for Iowa came out today, and shows this a dead heat:

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley closes the gap with Republican State Sen. Joni Ernst, leaving the Iowa U.S. Senate race a 47 – 47 percent dead heat, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Four percent remain undecided.

This compares to results of an October 29 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN- uh-pe-ack) University, showing Sen. Ernst at 49 percent and Rep. Braley at 45 percent.

Today’s results show independent voters divided 44 – 44 percent. Republicans back Ernst 95 – 2 percent. Democrats back Braley 94 – 5 percent.

Men and women still are locked in a reverse gender gap as women back the Democratic man 51 – 42 percent, while men back the Republican woman 52 – 44 percent.

However, as before, Quinnipiac shows Braley with a huge lead in early voting, even though Republicans are within two points of Democrats in Iowa on ballot returns:

Braley leads 56 – 36 percent among those who already have voted.

As of close of business yesterday, Republicans accounted for 38.7% of all ballots returned, and Democrats 40.6%. For ballots sent, the gap is slightly wider at 36.6% to 41%. For this result to make sense, Braley would have to be killing it among independents — which Quinnipiac’s own data shows isn’t happening.

Quinnipiac is a solid pollster, but the Des Moines Register is the gold standard for Iowa polling. I’d say that the truth is probably somewhere in between, but a lot closer to DMR than the Q-poll.

Update: MSNBC is, surprisingly, sticking with this story. Luke Russert called it “a terrible unforced error” and that Harkin is “damaged goods” today.

“A huge gift” to Joni Ernst? Probably one she’d have preferred not to have been offered, thank you very much, but at least it reveals who’s hostile to women in politics. Credit MSNBC for noticing.