Hog Wild in the Hawkeye State: The Race for Harkin's Seat

The Peep ad caught almost immediate return fire from Ernst and her supporters, though. Its use of baby chicks, they said, constituted a sexist attack in which Braley was calling his female rival a chick. University of Iowa political science professor and politics watcher Timothy Hagle also widely tweeted, “Imagine if a GOP candidate had used a ‘chick’ in an ad against a female opponent.”

Not wanting to miss out on the action, the National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly issued a press release slamming Braley for what it said was his “blatant hypocrisy” in using chick imagery against his female opponent.

RSCC press secretary Brook Hougesen wrote, “Does anyone doubt that if a male Republican candidate ran an ad comparing a female Democratic candidate to a chick, reporters’ inboxes would be filled with outraged press releases demanding that the ad be condemned and then taken down? Of course not.”

Out on the stump, Ernst and surrogates have relentlessly attacked Braley, hitting him over his trial lawyer past, his alleged disdain for Iowa farming values and for his “Washington insider” status.

A potential Senate seat for Republicans is at stake in this contest, with such a pickup key to GOP plans to wrest control of that body from Democrats. The Ernst-Braley fight is more than just an Iowa-specific brawl this electoral season and both parties as well as numerous political action committees on both sides of the aisle know it. In fact, money from all over the country is rolling into both campaigns and independent groups plan to saturate the Hawkeye State’s airwaves with mostly negative ads.

Drake University political scientist Arthur Sanders, in an interview with the Des Moines Register, also predicts the combat between Braley and Ernst will be “very expensive and very hotly contested” as well as “possibly pretty nasty.”

The bad blood between the two competing parties isn’t just confined to the state, either. Ernst was recently forced to apologize for her husband calling Hillary Clinton a “hag” on his Facebook page and Braley was exposed as being one of many congressional Democrats that demanded the Internal Revenue Service investigate Tea Party associated groups applying for nonprofit status.

Iowa is a state with divided loyalties and its more urban and college-oriented areas typically favor Democrats while rural regions tend to go for Republicans. The state’s governor, Terry Branstad, is a moderate Republican but its congressional delegation is evenly split between the two parties, as are its two Senate seats.

According to the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls, Braley holds a +0.8 percent advantage over Ernst, owing to a June 16 Quinnipiac poll that put him four points up on his rival. Prior to that poll, Ernst had held a +0.4 percent lead, though only for a short time. With polling this tight, it just may be that matters between the two candidates will remain as tightly packed as an Iowa hog pen right up through Election Day.

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)