Bob Vander Plaats, president of The Family Leader, greets Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst (R) following her speech at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa August 9, 2014. The pro-family Iowa organization is hosting the event in conjunction with national partners Family Research Council Action and Citizens United. Reuters/Brian Frank

Iowa Republican Joni Ernst beat out Democrat Bruce Braley to secure retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat Tuesday. The former Iowa state senator’s victory helped Republicans secure control of the U.S. Senate for the first time since 2006.

Ernst was narrowly favored to win in late stage polls, but the race was largely considered a toss-up. Her opponent slipped in the polls over the last few weeks and was reportedly "crestfallen" when he heard he was projected to lose in his home district by 3 points in a late-stage Des Moines Register Poll.

Ernst is a staunch social conservative. She opposes same-sex marriage and co-sponsored a bill in the state Senate that would have legally defined marriage as between a man and a woman, but it failed. She is also anti-abortion and against legalizing medical marijuana. She campaigned on repealing the Affordable Care Act and balancing the federal budget.

She is currently a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. She gained national attention with a handful of colorful campaign ads, including one in which she boasts, “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”

Braley and Ernst are nearly ideological opposites on every issue, but a lot of Iowa voters planned to go with their guts and choose the more "likeable" Ernst, according to the Des Moines Register. Braley also alienated some voters with condescending comments about longtime U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

“Voters find Ernst, who has led Iowa troops in war, to be a reassuring presence on security issues, the poll shows. In the wake of news developments on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, increasing aggressiveness of Russia and the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, more likely voters see Ernst as better equipped than Braley to show leadership and judgment, by at least 9 points on each issue,” the Register said.