Maybe Tom Harkin felt he was getting a little old to be the junior senator from Iowa. In fact, he is ranked the most senior junior senator in the US Senate, and he likely felt it was time to move on. He has stepped aside before, during the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, to let Arkansas native Bill Clinton have a clear path to the party’s nomination. And that was after leading in some polls. So now we have a Senate race in Iowa with no incumbent. Joni Ernst; Iowa born and bred, a state senator, and as Republican as they come, is in a tight race with about a 3 point lead over Bruce Braley; Iowa born and bred and about as Democrat as they come. In other words, on most issues there is a continent’s worth of distance between the two candidate’s positions. For example, Joni Ernst, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, would like to eliminate the Federal Education Department and leave Education up to each individual State’s department, as a way of reducing the size of the federal government and devolving power over education back out to the states. Braley apparently complained about the House gym and the cutbacks to certain services offered by said facility. Ernst is in favor of eliminating the EPA and is a climate change skeptic, while Braley can’t wait to enact reductions in emissions and has voted for emissions trading. Braley voted for Obamacare and Ernst is in favor of replacing it. Braley is pro-choice earning a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Ernst is pro-life and co-sponsored a state bill that would have made marriage an act between a man and a woman.

In other words, the choice between the two candidates, in terms of policy and values, is very clear. A RealClearPolitics polling average has Ernst ahead by 47.3 to 44.8. She had trailed earlier in the year but in late spring/ early summer shot up in the polls to make it a tight race, one that it now appears she will win. In a fascinating and fairly wonkish article by Shawn McCoy, someone who knows Iowa politics fairly well and applies innovative statistical modeling, he points out two key factors that seem to be pointing clearly to an Ernst win. The first one is that Joni Ernst has managed to come on strong in the home stretch in terms of fundraising, meaning she is finishing strong in terms of getting her message out to Iowa voters. The second reason is that Republicans seem to be winning the ground war, doing a much better job with no-party or independent voters. Those advantages should help undecideds vote for Ernst in large enough numbers to give her a close win. The choice for undecideds could not be clearer between the two candidates. Let’s see which way they do vote. Iowa will be one to watch on November 4.