Iowa Senate Election 2014: Bruce Braley vs Joni Ernst

Bruce Braley, Joni Ernst, Iowa Senate, Ernst Braley Senate

Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst at their debate on October 11. (Getty)

Democratic congressman Bruce Braley and Republican state senator Joni Ernst are battling it out in Iowa for the Senate seat left vacant by retiring Senator Tom Harkin.

One of the most closely-fought races in this election, it has been high-profile in national news and has brought in many outside figures to stump for the candidates.

Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Elizabeth Warren have all stumped for Braley in Iowa, and Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rand Paul have turned out for Ernst, with Condoleeza Rice also recently endorsing her.

Here’s what you need to know about the race:


1. Rep. Bruce Braley is the Democratic Candidate

Bruce Braley, Braley Iowa, Braley Ernst, Braley Senate

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Braley has been the U.S. Representative for Iowa’s 1st congressional district since 2007.

He was born in Grinnell, Iowa, and went to Iowa State before getting a law degree from University of Iowa. He then worked as a trial attorney in Waterloo, Iowa, for 23 years.

He is married to teacher Carolyn Braley, whom he met at an Eagles concert, and they have three children together.


2. Republican Joni Ernst Came From Behind to Challenge Him

Joni Ernst, Joni Ernst Iowa, Iowa Senate, Joni Ernst Bruce Braley

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Ernst is a Republican state senator and former Montgomery County Auditor.

She is from Red Oak, Iowa, and grew up on a farm there before attending Iowa State University. She then went on to earn a Masters in Public Administration from Columbus College, in Columbus, Georgia.

While at Iowa State, Ernst joined the ROTC. She has since spent 21 years in the US Army Reserves and the Iowa National Guard, and spent 14 months overseas in 2003-2004 at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She is now a Lieutenant Colonel, and commands the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard.



3. The Polls Are Showing Ernst With a Narrow Lead

Joni Ernst, Joni Ernst Iowa, Joni Ernst Senate

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The race in Iowa could help determine who has control of the Senate, and Fivethirtyeight.com explained the importance of the Iowa race on the national level.

(…)Iowa is key. If Republicans win it, then they can afford to lose Georgia and Kansas and win the majority without pulling off an unexpected victory in New Hampshire or North Carolina. It’s no mistake that Republican Joni Ernst’s chance of winning in Iowa, 66 percent, is nearly the same as the 64 percent chance Republicans have at taking back the Senate.

After a tight race, Ernst has pulled ahead in most polls since mid-September. Realclearpolitics.com reports the average of her lead is only 2.1 percentage points, but the consistency of the polls showing her in the lead are to her advantage.

The race is also fairly stable, with 91% of voters saying that they have made their decision.


4. They Are Clashing Over Who is More ‘Iowa Nice’

VideoVideo related to iowa senate election 2014: bruce braley vs joni ernst2014-10-30T12:56:46-04:00

The question of being authentically “Iowa” has been central to this race, and the candidates have traded barbs back and forth.

Ernst’s campaign has focused heavily on her image as a true Iowan, with ads such as the one above emphasizing her local farming background.

Braley’s campaign has struggled to counter his image as an out-of-touch D.C. lawyer. He has not managed to shake the fallout of a dispute about his neighbor’s therapeutic chickens at his vacation home, when it was claimed his family tried to sue over the chickens’ presence on their property.

Gaffes such as calling popular Senator Chuck Grassley “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school” have not helped his case. Recorded while Braley was speaking to a group of lawyers at a fundraiser in Corpus Christi, Texas, pro-Ernst ads have featured the clip heavily.

Ernst has had stumbles of her own, such as the Des Moines Register’s publication of Facebook posts by her husband calling Janet Napolitano a “traitorous skank”, and Hillary Clinton a “lying hag”. He also said:

“What do you do if you see your ex running around in your front yard screaming and bloody? Stay calm. Reload. And try again.”

Joni Ernst said, “I’m appalled by my husband’s remarks. They are uncalled for and clearly inappropriate. I’ve addressed this issue with my husband and that’s between us.”

Braley’s campaign have focused on her “extreme” views, including her aim of eliminating the EPA, IRS & Department of Education, as well as the federal minimum wage.


5. It’s the Most Expensive Non-Presidential Race Ever in Iowa

Sen. Tom Harkin, pictured in April (Getty)

Sen. Tom Harkin, pictured in April (Getty)

The extreme competitiveness of the race has led to exorbitant spending by both campaigns and by outside groups.

Spending on ads was “probably pushing up on $40 million or more”, according to Republican strategist David Kochel, quoted in the Des Moines Register.

The sourcing of financing has been a key issue in the race. In the Des Moines Register’s follow-up to their endorsement of Braley for Senate, they highlighted the reasons that Ernst did not match up with the ‘Iowa values’ that she has touted.

Leaving social issues such as abortion (a particular point of contention in the debates), the piece highlighted Ernst’s links to big money and Wall Street through donors. It said,

“Ernst attended a seminar hosted by the billionaire Koch brothers in August 2013 to woo donors, eventually crediting her exposure to their donor network with starting her ‘trajectory’ (…) Despite spending the day with the Koch brothers, she canceled multiple scheduled meetings with Iowa newspapers or refused to meet with them.”

Braley has also had to answer questions about the financing of his campaign.

Ernst campaign spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said “radical groups like Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC, the American Association for Justice and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association are bankrolling his (Braley’s) candidacy.”

He has received more than $1 million from lawyers or law firms during the campaign, according to opensecrets.org.

Struggling to close the gap between him and Ernst, Braley and other Senate Democrats are reaching out to donors to pump more money into his campaign.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has been active in the state, having spent $6.6 million in the race. Retiring Senator Tom Harkin, however, has refused to hand over the $2.4 million left in his campaign account, leaving Braley to hope that outside donors will make up what is needed in the last days of the race.