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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley wants to subpoena Comey, Lynch after critical IG report Senate Dems call for Judiciary hearing on Trump's 'zero tolerance' Republicans agree — it’s only a matter of time for Scott Pruitt 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 Lowell BraleyOPINION | Tax reform, not Trump-McConnell feuds, will make 2018 a win for GOP Ten years later, House Dems reunite and look forward Trump: Ernst wanted 'more seasoning' before entertaining VP offer 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.