June 4 (Bloomberg) -- Joni Ernst, who made national headlines for a campaign ad that touted her hog castration skills, won Iowa’s Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting in yesterday’s race, Ernst had 56 percent of the vote in a five-candidate field, according to the Associated Press tally.
Ernst faces U.S. Representative Bruce Braley, who was unopposed for the Democratic Senate nomination, in November’s general election. They are vying to fill the seat of retiring Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat who is retiring after five terms. Ernst also is seeking to become the first woman sent to either chamber of Congress by Iowa.
Ernst needed at least 35 percent of the primary vote to avoid having the nomination decided at a state party convention in Des Moines on June 14. The activists at that gathering -- much smaller in number than the primary electorate -- could have chosen any of the five declared candidates or someone else.
Ernst, 43, fused support from divergent wings in her party. She gained endorsements ranging from 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, both of whom are favorites of the limited government Tea Party movement.
In the ad that attracted national attention, Ernst spotlighted her rural roots, including her childhood experience castrating hogs. She noted how that might translate to budget-cutting prowess in Washington.
She also ran an ad showing her firing a handgun at an indoor shooting range, stressing her support of firearm rights.
The battle to succeed Harkin will be one of the year’s most closely watched Senate races as Republicans seek the net gain of six seats they need for a chamber majority. The Washington-based nonpartisan Cook Political Report ranks Iowa as “lean Democrat,” one notch away in its ratings from “toss up.”
Although President Barack Obama won Iowa in 2008 and 2012, his popularity in the state has dropped significantly. An Iowa Poll by the Des Moines Register released in March showed his approval rating at 36 percent, the lowest of his presidency.
Democrats also have become more anxious about the race after a gaffe in March by Braley, who was caught on video mocking the state’s senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, as a potential chairman of the Judiciary Committee if Democrats lose control of the chamber.
Braley, 56, termed Grassley “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school,” a phrase Republicans have labeled as elitist. Iowa, home to about 88,000 farms, is the biggest U.S. producer of corn and soybeans.
Iowa hasn’t had a race for an open Senate seat since 1974.
Second in the Republican race, with 18 percent of the vote, was Sam Clovis, a professor and former radio talk show host who was endorsed by one of his party 2012 Republican presidential candidates, Rick Santorum. Mark Jacobs, a former Goldman Sachs managing director and energy executive, was third with 17 percent.
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