Iowa primary sets up top Senate battle

Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) has won her primary, setting up a key Senate battle against Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa).

The Associated Press has called the race for Ernst, who had 53 percent of the vote with 24 percent of precincts reporting. Conservative radio host Sam Clovis had 19 percent, businessman Mark Jacobs (R) had 17 percent and former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker (R) had 9 percent.

By topping the 35 percent threshold, she avoids a primary convention and sets up what could be a close race, and a crucial one in the battle for Senate control. Braley has led in public polling, though not by a large margin.

Ernst had a swift rise to the top of the GOP heap, fueled by a series of memorable ads, a gaffe from Braley, a series of big-name endorsements and quiet backing from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and his allies.

The race looked like a sleeper a few months ago as Braley was ahead in the polls and Jacobs had the edge in primary polling due to early and big spending on ads. But that changed when Braley slipped and she went on the air.

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