Joni Ernst, the hog-castrating, Harley Davidson-riding Iowa state senator who burst onto the national scene with a series of provocative television ads, clinched the Republican nomination for Iowa’s Senate seat in a decisive victory over a crowded field of opponents.
According to the Associated Press, with 27.8 percent of the results in, Ernst had 54.3 percent of the vote, clearing the 35 percent hurdle necessary to avoid a state nominating convention, which would have left the decision up to a more select group of Republican delegates.
She will now challenge the de facto Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce Braley in the general election. If she were to win in November, in what’s expected to be a highly competitive race, she would become the first female senator from the Hawkeye state.
Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard who served in Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom, set herself apart from her opponents in March with the release of her first TV ad, aptly titled “Squeal.”
In the ad, Ernst says through a smile, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”
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The race opened up in January when five-term Democratic stalwart Sen. Tom Harkin announced he would not seek re-election, immediately presenting Republicans an opportunity to nab an otherwise noncompetitive seat. The field quickly flooded with potential candidates, but ultimately narrowed down to five — Ernst, former energy executive Mark Jacobs, Rick Perry-supported attorney Matt Whitaker, Rick Santorum-backed radio host Sam Clovis and car salesman Scott Schaben.
But after releasing her first ad, Ernst has enjoyed a wave of momentum, putting out another provocative ad, this time showing her riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle and taking aim at wasteful spending and Obamacare with her handgun.
Ernst’s momentum and broad appeal has attracted a wide coalition of disparate factions of the Republican Party. She has received the backing of GOP establishment figures like Mitt Romney and groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, while also collecting endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the tea-party group Senate Conservatives Action.
On top of this, Sen. Marco Rubio announced he was backing Ernst in May, deciding to make his first endorsement in the early presidential voting state. Rubio traveled to Des Moines Monday, stumping with Ernst on the eve of the primary election.
Ernst’s ascendance as the clear Republican choice for the nomination places her in a more competitive position heading into the November general election against four-term Rep. Bruce Braley. Braley, however, has been enjoying the perks of running unopposed in the primary — he will go into the general election with $2.3 million to Ernst’s $100,000.