Ernst Narrowly Leads GOP Field in Iowa Senate Race

Ernst Narrowly Leads GOP Field in Iowa Senate Race
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State Sen. Joni Ernst has worked her way to the front of a crowded Republican field in the U.S. Senate race in Iowa, according to a new Suffolk University poll. However, the contest remains wide open with 40 percent of survey respondents still undecided.

Twenty-five percent of Republican primary voters said they support Ernst. Businessman Mark Jacobs came in second with 23 percent, while college professor Sam Clovis took 7 percent of the support. Scott Schaben and Matt Whitaker each garnered less than 5 percent. Ernst also came in first place among “second choice” candidates, with Whitaker and Jacobs narrowly trailing her.

Ernst recently received an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and she has posted strong fundraising numbers. The lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard also made news when her first television ad referenced hog castration as a model for cutting pork in Washington. While the spot became late-night comedy fodder, it appears to have been effective in the farm-rich state.

Ernst and Jacobs performed best among the GOP candidates against Rep. Bruce Braley, the likely Democratic nominee. Both earned around 30 percent of the vote to Braley’s 37 or 38 percent, with about one-third of voters still undecided. (The RCP Average shows Braley leading Ernst by 7.5 points.)

While the contours of the Republican Senate primary are taking shape, the 2016 presidential field remains wide open. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, leads the crowded field of potential GOP candidates with 11 percent. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are all one percentage point behind Huckabee.

But there are plenty of other possible contenders. Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Palin, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (who narrowly won the 2012 Iowa caucuses), and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker all earn under 10 percent.

Meanwhile, the 2016 Democratic field is strongly tilted toward former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who gets about 63 percent of hypothetical Democratic caucus-goers. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden earn 12 and 10 percent, respectively. Just 12 percent of Democrats are undecided.

The survey of 800 likely Iowa voters was conducted April 3-8 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that Ernst had "strong fundraising." In fact, she has lagged behind some competitors, despite receiving backing from major party fundraisers Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. 

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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