The Republican: A web sensation. From talking about castrating hogs as a little girl to driving a motorcycle to a shooting range, Ernst’s 30-second spots have gone viral this election year, helping the little-known state legislator rise to national prominence.
The Democrat: Not a sure thing. Braley is willingly vacating his House seat in hopes of becoming Iowa’s next senator. However, his ambitions may force him out of Washington, temporarily at least, as every major poll shows him trailing his Republican rival.
Background: Mother. Soldier. Independent leader. The aforementioned words are plastered on Ernst’s tour bus and featured in every campaign ad she releases.
Representing District 12, Ernst was first elected to the Iowa Senate in a January 2011 special election.
A Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, Ernst’s military career stretches back more than 20 years.
If elected, she will be the first woman Iowans send to Congress.
Background: Lawyer up! According to his online bio, Braley was shaped by his upbringing in a working family in rural Iowa. When he was a child, his father was severely injured in a fall at the grain elevator where he worked. Braley grew up to become a plaintiffs lawyer and is a former head of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association.
“Motivated in part by his family’s experience dealing with his father’s accident, Bruce went to law school at the University of Iowa so he could stand up for others hit by hard times,” Braley’s bio page states.
Braley spent two decades working as a trial lawyer before being elected to the House in 2006. As a congressman, Braley has sponsored numerous bills aimed at benefiting farmers, students, veterans and seniors.
Eyebrow-raiser: Gun nut or 2nd Amendment enthusiast? In May, Ernst created a media stir with a campaign ad featuring her shooting a gun.
“(Ernst) carries more than just lipstick in her purse,” the ad narrator says right before the Senate hopeful whips out a handgun and fires at a target. "Joni Ernst will take aim at wasteful spending. And once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni's gonna unload."
According to an Oct. 22 article in the Huffington Post, during an NRA event in 2012, Ernst said: “I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere. But I do believe in the right to carry, and I believe in the right to defend myself and my family -- whether it’s from an intruder, or whether it’s from the government, should they decide that my rights are no longer important.”
Eyebrow-raiser: More lawyers, less farmers in Congress? Earlier this year, Braley received heaps of media attention for his remark concerning Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley being a “farmer.”
In January, Braley told a group of trial lawyers at a Corpus Christi, Texas, fundraiser he needs their “help” to stop Grassley – an Iowa farmer prior to launching his extensive career in Congress – from becoming the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“A farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,” Braley said in the viral video. “If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice — someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way — on the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
Endorsements: A tea party favorite. Ernst has received endorsements from tea party organizations across the country, including the nation’s largest tea party political action committee, Tea Party Express.
Endorsements: Bailey for Senate … I mean Braley. Braley became the focal point of media coverage once again when the first lady repeatedly botched his name, calling him “Bailey” seven times at an Oct. 11 campaign event.
Two weeks later, Michelle Obama addressed the slip with humor on her next stumping trip to Iowa, saying, "Bruce Braley. Now, some of you may remember the last time I was here, I got it wrong... a couple of times.”
Funding: Conservative PACs have Ernst’s back. At the end of the third quarter, Ernst had netted more than $8.7 million and still maintained $3.6 million in reserve funds heading into the finals weeks of the election, according to opensecrets.org.
The bulk of Ernst’s funds have come from individuals (82 percent). PACs have donated more than $1 million to the Senate hopeful, accounting for 12 percent of her total funding.
Some of the more generous PACs contributing to Ernst include the Senate Conservatives Fund ($18,241), Koch Industries ($15,400), Common Values PAC ($10,000) and Defend America PAC ($10,000).
From the start of July to the end of September, Ernst raised a staggering $6 million, according to finance campaign reports on file with the Federal Election Commission.
Funding: 12 percent of Braley’s donations have come from lawyers. Braley has been a fundraising machine this election cycle, raking in nearly $10 million in donations as of Sept. 30, according to opensecrets.org.
Lawyers and law firms have been the congressman’s biggest contributors, supplying his campaign with more than $1.2 million in donations.
The top firms contributing include: Weitz & Luxenberg, a law firm specializing in asbestos litigation, with almost $40,000 in donations from its attorneys; the New Orleans firm Herman Herman & Katz with $29,200 in contributions; and the Dallas law firm Waters & Kraus with a total of $27,700 in donations.
Issues: Beating the Obama agenda. The web link to the hopeful’s campaign site reads: “Joni Ernst for US Senate - Time to beat the Obama agenda.” The way Ernst sees fit to do that is by creating jobs and instituting “real and meaningful health care reform.”
Issues: Increase minimum wage. Throughout his campaign, Braley hasn’t been shy on his support for raising minimum wage to $10.10 per hour with further increases going forward for inflation.