Republican Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iraq War veteran seen in recent years as a rising figure within her party, won a closer than expected re-election race on Tuesday as GOP candidates outperformed pollsters expectations for the night.

Ernst, 50, served in the Iowa Army National Guard for 22 years before retiring in 2015 as a lieutenant colonel. She is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and was named vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference in 2018, despite only a few years of service in the chamber.

She was also a rumored vice presidential candidate for President Donald Trump in 2016, and seen by many as a long-time fixture for her party in Iowa.

But polls in recent months showed a close race between her and Democrat Theresa Greenfield. The Associated Press called the race just before midnight local time on Tuesday, with Ernst holding a lead of about 100,000 votes (7 percent).

“It has been such a great honor to serve as your United States senator for the past six years, and I look forward to continuing that fight over the next six years,” Ernst said at a victory party Tuesday.

The race was seen as a key battleground in Democratic leaders hopes of gaining control of the Senate. As of Tuesday morning, the party was still several wins short of that goal, making it likely that Republicans would retain a slim majority in the chamber.

Ernst has been an active member on the armed services committee, particularly on military personnel and counterterrorism issues.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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