DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Ads for Republican Joni Ernst by a powerful business group add to the sense of momentum for the state senator who would be the party's first woman nominee for Senate, should she win on June 3.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's television advertising in the final week of the campaign also could nudge Ernst closer to breaking through the elusive Iowa glass ceiling. No woman has ever been elected governor nor to Congress from Iowa. It also marks the uncommon alliance nationally of right-wing conservative groups and more traditional pro-business GOP interests.
"She's got a lot of endorsements from a lot of different directions. Everything from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Rifle Association. It's pretty impressive," said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who has not endorsed a Senate candidate but has spoken very highly of Ernst throughout the campaign.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a four-term Democrat, is unopposed for his party's nomination.
Ernst is the only woman in a five-candidate field, and has led in recent polls. She is competing with former Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs who has contributed $3 million of his own money to the campaign. If no candidate reaches 35 percent of the vote in the primary, the nomination would be decided at a special convention, where radio host Sam Clovis would have a devout following. Ernst has been hovering at above 30 percent support in some recent polls.
But Ernst is the first candidate this year to receive the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Senate Conservatives Fund. The latter has endorsed GOP primary challengers and non-establishment Republicans in high-profile Senate primaries this year in Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska and elsewhere.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who seldom are allies within the Republican party, have also endorsed Ernst.
Senior Ernst adviser David Polyansky said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads show Ernst unifying the party in a way Jacobs, who has tried to corner the GOP's business community, has been unable to do.
"To have their support really neutralizes his message, that he has tried and failed to solidify that box," Polyansky said of the U.S. Chamber's ads.
The chamber advertisements tout Ernst's farm, legislative and military background. Ernst is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard who served as captain of a transportation company during the Iraq War, leading daily convoys into combat areas from April 2003 to April 2004.
Iowa and Mississippi are the only two states never to elect women to Congress or governor. Hillary Clinton used the distinction as ammunition for a parting shot at Iowa after her disappointing third-place finish in Iowa's 2008 Democratic presidential caucuses.
Republican U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley has been a senator since 1981, and the retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin defeated five male candidates in his 30 years in Congress.