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Ernst Surges After History-Making Primary Win

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Ernst is in a dead heat with Bruce Braley on the heels of setting the mark for the largest victory by a non-incumbent in a contested Iowa Republican U.S. Senate primary

joniernst10.jpgThe one advantage of running unchallenged in the primary is that the nomination is in the bag.

The downside, however, is that there is little momentum to be found coming out of primary night.

Iowa Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Bruce Braley learned that last week as he watched Republican Joni Ernst turn in an extremely strong performance in her party's primary.

While Ernst was the universal favorite to place first in the GOP primary, there was not universal agreement that she would reach the 35 percent threshold necessary to avoid sending the nomination to the state convention.

Ernst easily accomplished that feat (with 21+ percentage points to spare), and in doing so turned in one of the most impressive performances in a Republican U.S. Senate primary in Iowa history.

And now Ernst has seen the fruits of her head-turning performance with an immediate bounce in the polls - leading for the first time in head-to-head matchups against Congressman Braley in surveys conducted after her primary win.

Ernst led Braley by a 48 to 42 percent margin in a Loras College poll among likely voters and by a statistically insignificant one-point margin in a new Rasmussen likely voter survey.

Whether or not Ernst can sustain this bounce in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but it seems her immediate boost in the polls was borne not simply from winning the GOP primary, but doing so emphatically.

Smart Politics examined the data from Iowa U.S. Senate Republican primaries since the first contest in 1914 and found that Ernst's 38.1-point victory was the fifth largest among the 25 contested primaries in state history - and the best by a non-incumbent.

Overall, Iowa Republicans have held 35 U.S. Senate primaries since 1914, although nominees won without opposition 10 times: William Kenyon in 1918, Bourke Hickenlooper in 1944, Thomas Martin in 1954, Roger Jepsen in 1984, Thomas Tauke in 1990, and Chuck Grassley in 1986, 1992, 1998, 2004, and 2010.

Of the remaining 25 contests in which the nominee faced at least one opponent, only four saw a bigger blow-out than Ernst's win Tuesday - all won by sitting U.S. Senators:

· In 1962, three-term incumbent Bourke Hickenlooper defeated Herbert Hoover by 70.8 points in a head-to-head match

· In 1972, two-term incumbent Jack Miller beat Ralph Scott by 68.8 points in a head-to-head race

· In 1966, one-term incumbent Jack Miller beat Herbert Hoover by 67.8 points in a two-candidate field

· In 1950, one-term incumbent Bourke Hickenlooper defeated Earl Wisdom by 60.5 points in a three-candidate race

Ernst's 38.1-point victory over Sam Clovis ranks fifth, but is the largest for any contested Republican primary not won by a sitting U.S. Senator of the 15 such contests in the party's history.

Prior to Ernst's win, Jim Lightfoot held the mark with his 36.7-point win over Maggie Tinsman in a three-candidate race in 1996.

Margin of Victory in Contested Iowa Republican U.S. Senate Primary Races, 1914-2014

Year
1st Place
%
2nd Place
%
# Cand
MoV
1962
Bourke Hickenlooper*
85.4
Herbert Hoover
14.6
2
70.8
1972
Jack Miller*
84.4
Ralph Scott
15.6
2
68.8
1966
Jack Miller*
83.9
Herbert Hoover
16.1
2
67.8
1950
Bourke Hickenlooper*
75.3
Earl Wisdom
14.8
3
60.5
2014
Joni Ernst
56.1
Sam Clovis
18.0
5
38.1
1948
George Wilson*
68.4
John Calhoun
31.6
2
36.8
1996
Jim Lightfoot
61.5
Maggie Tinsman
24.8
3
36.7
1956
Bourke Hickenlooper*
67.7
Dayton Countryman
32.3
2
35.4
1974
David Stanley
66.9
George Milligan
34.1
2
32.8
1968
David Stanley
58.7
James Bromwell
26.7
4
32.0
1980
Chuck Grassley
65.6
Tom Stoner
34.5
2
31.1
1914
Albert Cummins*
64.6
Arthur Savage
35.4
2
29.2
1922 (s)
Smith Brookhart
41.1
Clifford Thorne
16.3
6
24.8
1930
Lester Dickinson
54.0
John Hammill
30.7
4
23.3
1978
Roger Jepsen
57.3
Maurie Van Nostrand
35.6
3
21.7
1942
George Wilson
51.7
Mark Thornburg
32.7
4
19.0
1936
Lester Dickinson*
40.5
Smith Brookhart
22.3
6
18.2
2002
Greg Ganske
59.0
Bill Sailer
41.0
2
18.0
1926
Smith Brookhart
49.5
Albert Cummins*
32.5
5
17.0
1938
Lester Dickinson
57.0
Lloyd Thurston
43.0
2
14.0
1932
Henry Field
47.4
Smith Brookhart*
35.1
4
12.3
1924
Smith Brookhart*
55.0
Burton Sweet
45.0
2
10.0
1920
Albert Cummins*
54.5
Smith Brookhart
45.5
2
9.0
1960
Jack Miller
30.8
Dayton Countryman
29.0
6
1.8
2008
Christopher Reed
35.3
George Eichorn
34.5
3
0.8
* Denotes incumbent. Compiled by Smart Politics with data culled from the Iowa Official Register.

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