Republican Joni Ernst will become Iowa’s first female U.S. senator — and the first female veteran in the history of the U.S. Senate — after claiming victory Tuesday night in a bruising, big-money race that remained stubbornly close for months.
Her 152-day battle with Democrat Bruce Braley also made history as Iowa’s most expensive race ever. More than $79 million was spent trying to influence votes on just these two candidates, OpenSecrets.org records show.
“Thanks to you we are headed to Washington, and we are going to make them squeal!” Ernst told an elated crowd at the GOP election night party at the Marriott hotel in West Des Moines. “Tonight we’re going to take the Iowa way all the way to Washington!”
Iowa has never before sent a woman to the U.S. House or Senate.
Ernst, a 44-year-old state senator and military commander from Red Oak, rose from near anonymity to national fame to take out a rival who was regarded by Iowa Democrats as close to an incumbent — a sitting member of Congress and the protege of the current officeholder, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin.
Iowa’s decision leaves Braley, 57, jobless come January. A lawyer elected to the U.S. House eight years ago, Braley sacrificed his seat representing left-leaning northeast Iowa to pursue the statewide office that Harkin’s coming retirement left up for grabs.
Ernst billed herself as a soldier, mother and independent leader who would pare government spending, while Braley pitched himself as the candidate <FZ,1,0,87>who would best help the middle class.
At the GOP party, Ernst said she spoke by telephone with Braley and called him “a worthy opponent.”
She thanked Iowans who voted for her Democratic rival. “I plan to work day and night to earn your trust and confidence in the years to come,” she said.
At the Democratic election night party at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, Braley said: “You know, there are a lot of disappointed people tonight, including me. But we are lucky to live in a country where we have the freedom to be disappointed in the outcome of an election. Because people come here from all over the world because they don’t even get to vote on the people who make decisions that impact their lives.”
After losing several loved ones, including his father when Braley was 23, “This is not a bad day for Bruce Braley,” he said. “This is a day to celebrate what people can do together when they put their minds together.”
For months, Iowa was considered a crucial chess piece in the GOP game plan for retaking power in the U.S. Senate, and Iowa proved pivotal. Fox News didn’t project GOP control of the Senate until the moment Ernst was declared the winner in Iowa.
Read More:Joni Ernst wins Iowa U.S. Senate seat.