Iowa Senate Race 2014: ABC News' '14 For 14'

PHOTO: Iowa Republican senatorial candidates, from left, State Sen. Joni Ernst, Mark Jacobs, Schaben, Matt Whitaker and Sam Clovis stand on stage during a live televised debate at Iowa Public Television studios, April 24, 2014, in Johnston, Iowa.

ABC News' "14 For 14" project is documenting 14 races that matter between now and November. This page will be updated throughout the year. See the full list of 2014 midterm election contests the ABC News political team is tracking.

THE PLAYERS

Rep. Bruce Braley
Democrat
Currently serving as U.S. Representative for Iowa's 1st Congressional District.
Age: 56 (Oct. 30, 1957)

State Sen. Joni Ernst
Republican
Currently representing Iowa District 12 as a State Senator.
Age: 44 (July 1, 1970)

THE STAKES

The race is on to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin in Iowa, with the GOP eyeing this contest as a potential pick-up opportunity, especially since State Sen. Joni Ernst’s meteoric rise above a crowded field of contenders to win the party’s nomination in June. The release of provocative campaign ads like "Squeal", which allude to Ernst's intention to cut pork in Washington, have pushed the relatively unknown state legislator and Iraq War veteran into the national spotlight. She has received endorsements from the likes of Marco Rubio, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. But the Braley campaign is trying to cut through the hype by characterizing her positions on the farm bill, medicare and social security as untenable and extreme. The Ernst campaign, on the other hand, is trying to cast Braley as a Washington insider and trial lawyer who is out of touch with Iowans. The campaign seized on a gaffe Braley made earlier this year at a fundraiser, where he used the word farmer in a demeaning description of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. They're now offering bumper-stickers that read: “Sorry Bruce Braley, I’m proud to be a farmer."

THE OUTLOOK

The most recent Quinnipiac University poll has Ernst trailing Braley by four points (44 - 40 percent), but that’s a change from March. Ernst has managed to narrow a 13 point gap down to just four points in just four months and only weeks into the general election. And that’s not all the poll shows. There is a notable gender gap showing the majority of Iowa women support Braley, while a majority of Iowa men support Ernst. If Ernst wins in November, she will become the first female senator to represent the Hawkeye state, and if the current divide holds, she’ll be elected by a majority male voters. Braley is clearly reaping the financial rewards of not having to face a primary, and outside groups from boths sides are spending money in Iowa to try and tip the balance. The League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Action Fund's spent $1 million on a TV ad that ties Ernst to Sarah Palin and the Koch brothers, while American Crossroads spent $415,000 on an ad attacking Braley for his farmer comments and his support of the Affordable Care Act. Expect this race to only intensify from now until November. Republicans need six Senate seats to win a majority in the Senate, and with considerable momentum behind Ernst, both parties are going to be throwing more money and resources into the state to try to secure victory in November.

ABC NEWS RATING

Toss-up

KEY DATES

November 4, 2014: General election

IN THE NEWS

Senate Candidate Joni Ernst Wants to Make DC 'Squeal'

Senate Candidate Spent $868 on Viral 'Blow Your B**** Off' Ad

‘Chicks’, ‘Skanks’ and ‘Hags’: Heated Opener in Iowa Senate Race

Hog-Castrating, Harley Davidson-Riding Joni Ernst Wins Iowa Senate Primary

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