The candidates are hoping to fill the seat being vacated by the retirement of Senator Tom Harkin, an influential five-term Democrat.
The seat was seen as a shoo-in for the Democrats until Ernst began gaining momentum in the late spring.
Here’s what you need to know about Braley:
1. He’s a Member of the House of Representatives
After a 23-year career as a trial lawyer, the lifelong Iowa resident was elected to the House of Representatives in 2006, when he beat opponent Mike Whalen in a race for a seat vacated by eight-term Republican Jim Nussle.
Braley was an early supporter of John Edwards in the 2008 presidential campaign before throwing his weight behind Barack Obama after Edwards’ exit from the race.
He narrowly won re-election in 2010 against opponent Ben Lange, and beat Lange again in 2012, when he had the highest rate of out-of-state donors of all Iowa Congressional candidates, sourced heavily from lobbyists and fellow lawyers.
In an interview with Chris Weigant for the Huffington Post, Braley said:
A populist is someone who fights for common sense economic policies that sustain and expand the middle class. The Populist Caucus is intended to bring members of Congress together around a few core economic issues to strengthen the middle class. Generally speaking, populists in history have championed the needs of working people and advocated a more democratic society. Given this history and philosophy, I think calling a caucus whose chief focus is economic issues the “Populist Caucus” is an obvious choice.
2. Michelle Obama Came Out to Stump For Him
Michelle Obama, who has approval ratings well into the 60s, has been at campaign events for many Democratic candidates in the run-up to the midterm elections, and visited Iowa to support Braley recently.
She spoke at a campaign event at the Drake University Fieldhouse in Des Moines on Friday October 10, where she mispronounced Braley’s name as ‘Bailey’ several times. She was later corrected by an audience member. Bill Clinton has also called Braley ‘Bailey’ in the past.
Ernst said on Sean Hannity’s radio show, “Wow, that was great for my campaign. That’s one of the first tenets of having somebody come in to stump for you. They really should know who you are.”
3. He Met His Wife at an Eagles Concert
Braley met his wife Carolyn at an Eagles concert in 1976, when they were both students at Iowa State University. They married in 1983. Braley posted a picture on Twitter of him, his wife, brother and brother’s wife at an Eagles concert in September.
Carolyn has worked as a schoolteacher for many years, teaching Social Studies at Waterloo West High School. Their children are now grown, and Braley posted a picture of his daughter’s wedding day in July, as he prepared to walk her down the aisle.
4. He Was Involved in an Altercation Over His Neighbor’s Chickens
Braley became embroiled in an incident at his vacation house involving the neighbor’s therapeutic chickens. Braley argued they were often on his property, and said he reported her to the homeowner’s association, though he emphatically denies threatening to sue.
The Washington Post described Braley as being ‘bitten by the gaffe bug’, and a number of remarks continue to follow him through the campaign.
Ernst had more material at her disposal over a caught-on-camera comment from Braley that Sen. Chuck Grassley was ‘a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school’, recorded while Braley was speaking to a group of lawyers in Corpus Christi at a fundraiser. It’s proving tough to shake in heavily-agricultural Iowa, and the Ernst campaign has benefited from the implication that Braley is a disconnected, aloof lawyer.
Republicans are also honing in on Braley’s October 2005 defense of a woman who filed a ‘slip-and-fall’ lawsuit against Walmart when she slipped on some spilled dish soap. The case was dismissed, likely after a settlement.
5. He’s an Iowa Native
Braley was born in Grinnell, Iowa, to Marcia and Byard Braley. The family owned a farm in nearby Brooklyn, Iowa, and Braley’s father (an Iwo Jima veteran) suffered a serious injury in a fall at a grain elevator when Braley was a child.
His mother went back to school to earn her teaching certificate to support the family, and Braley says this experience motivated him to attend law school “so he could stand up for others hit by hard times”.
Braley graduated from BGM High School and attended Iowa State before going to University of Iowa College of Law. He then worked as a trial attorney in Waterloo, Iowa, for 23 years.