State Sen. Joni Ernst jumps into Iowa Senate race

Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in Iowa's national guard and first-term state lawmaker, has received encouragement from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and Lieutenant Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) to run for the seat.

She joins an already-crowded field of fairly unknown GOP candidates, after all of the state's well-known Republicans took a pass on the race. Declared candidates include David Young (R), who until recently was Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyMcConnell blames dysfunction on Dems Four states sue to stop internet transition Senate passes bill to preserve sexual assault kits MORE's (R-Iowa) chief of staff, as well as former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker (R) and conservative radio host Sam Clovis (R). Businessman Mark Jacobs (R) is also looking at a run.

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The eventual primary winner will go on to face Rep. Bruce BraleyBruce BraleyCriminal sentencing bill tests McConnell-Grassley relationship Trump's VP list shrinks Vernon wins Iowa House Dem primary MORE (D-Iowa), who Democrats have rallied around as their standard-bearer. Braley already has more than $2 million in the bank for the race after raising more than $1.25 million in the last three months.

A survey released Wednesday by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling shows Braley leading his GOP opponents by 9-3 points, though much of that lead may be due to their relative anonymity in the state.