Joni Ernst
Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, with Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst following her speech at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Aug. 9, 2014. Reuters

Republican Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst said Monday she was “very offended” after retiring Democratic Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin compared her looks to Taylor Swift. Harkin, an influential Democrat, made the remark while attending the Story County Democrats’ fall barbecue held last week in his honor.

“In this Senate race, I’d been watching some of these ads. And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, you know I heard so much about Joni Ernst. She is really attractive and she sounds nice,’” Harkin said at the barbecue in a video obtained by BuzzFeed and published Sunday. “Well, I got to thinking about that. I don’t care if she’s good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like [Minnesota Rep.] Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

The lines got a long applause at the barbecue. But Ernst said she was “greatly offended” by Harkin’s comparison, and said he wouldn’t have brought up her appearance if she were a male candidate.

"I was very offended that Sen. Harkin would say that. I think it's unfortunate that he and many of their party believe you can't be a real woman if you're conservative and you're female," Ernst said on “Fox and Friends” on Monday morning. "I believe if my name had been John Ernst attached to my resume, Sen. Harkin would not have said those things."

Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard who served in Iraq, is in a tight race with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley to replace Harkin. The race is rated a toss-up by Real Clear Politics, and Ernst is leading by an average of 1.4 percentage points in the latest polls.