Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst took a step closer to Washington after winning her state's Republican Senate primary Tuesday night.
Ernst, 43, gained national attention from an ad in which she cited her farming experience, which included "castrating hogs," and has vowed to "make them squeal" if elected to the Senate.
With 36 percent of precincts reporting, Ernst had garnered 54 percent of the vote. Her closest challenger, radio host Sam Clovis, had 18 percent. The other candidates in the race were Mark Jacobs (17 percent), Matthew Whitaker (8 percent), and Scott Schaben (1 percent).
Ernst was expected to gain the highest number of votes Tuesday, but it was unclear whether she would pick up more than 35 percent and earn an automatic nomination. If she had not eclipsed that number, Ernst would have had to be officially nominated at the state convention later this year.
The victory sets up a November showdown with Democrat Bruce Braley, who has represented Iowa's 7th District in the U.S. House since 2007. Democrat Tom Harkin, who served five terms in the Senate, is stepping down.
Ernst spent more than 20 years as a member of the Army Reserves and the Iowa National Guard, and earned her seat in the Iowa Senate in a 2011 special election. She was re-elected in 2012.
Ernst has described herself as a "farm girl" and said she carries a pistol in her purse. Several key players endorsed her ahead of Tuesday's election, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
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