Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst defeated Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, giving the GOP control of the Senate for the final two years of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Ernst, once a little-known state senator, first won national headlines for a GOP primary ad called “Squeal,” in which she outlined her upbringing on an Iowa farm. Noting how she learned to castrate hogs, she slyly added, “when I get to Washington, I'll know how to cut pork.” She won a competitive primary in June with backing from an array of establishment and Tea Party Republicans.
Braley, a congressman who also emphasized his rural Iowa upbringing, didn’t have a hard-fought primary. But he stumbled early in the campaign, referring to the state’s longtime Republican senator as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”
Ernst beat out Braley by decisively winning the men’s vote, by a 16 point margin – 56% to 40% and staying competitive for the women’s vote, which split 49% for Braley to 48% for Ernst. As with all the competitive Senate races this year, this Iowa contents was affected by the broader political climate, particularly frustration with President Obama, who has 39% approval rating in the state. This sentiment was very noticeable among the independent vote.
When asked for their feelings about the Obama administration, 65% of Iowa independents said that they were either angry or dissatisfied with the president, while just one-third – 35% -- said they were satisfied or enthusiastic. Independents broke for Ernst 51% to 41%.
The Senate race – one of the most closely watched in the country – comes in a state known for its high-profile role in the presidential nominating contest, and 2016 hopefuls from both parties campaigned for the candidates aggressively.
-- Carrie Dann and Andrew Rafferty