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New kids on the block: Meet the GOP's new senators

From farmers to former governors, this batch of Republican senators promises to make waves come January.
U.S. Rep. and Senator-elect Tom Cotton (R-AR) salutes supporters during an election night gathering on Nov. 4, 2014 in Little Rock.
U.S. Rep. and Senator-elect Tom Cotton (R-AR) salutes supporters during an election night gathering on Nov. 4, 2014 in Little Rock.

On Tuesday night, an army of nine Republican freshmen swept into office, winning their party the Senate majority and themselves new jobs. From farmers to former governors, this batch of Republican senators promises to make waves come January.

Here's who you'll see in the next session and what to expect from them.

Iowa - Joni Ernst

With a snip and a squeal, 2014’s star was born.

Republican Joni Ernst, 44, rose to national prominence in her campaign for Senate when she ran an ad touting pig castration skills and promising to “make Washington squeal.” Her folksy appeal and military record—campaign posters read “Mother, soldier, leader”—joined with far right views to key into the heart of the party and her win promises to be just the start for her.

“We’re taking the Iowa way all the way to Washington!” she said after her victory.

Ernst, who will become the first woman to represent Iowa in the Senate, beat out Braley by decisively winning the men’s vote by a 16-point margin – 56% to 40% -- and staying competitive for the women’s vote, which split 49% for Braley to 48% for Ernst, according to the NBC News exit poll in the state. She will take the seat Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin had held for three decades.

Democrats painted Ernst as a “the next Sarah Palin,” but the intended insult appears to have captured the magic of Ernst. Despite Ernst’s staunch opposition to issues that typically appeal to women, like hiking the minimum wage and reproductive rights, Braley was never able to fully capitalize on the women’s vote and the Republican enjoyed a boost as her male critics tripped up in their attacks (Harkin called her “really attractive” and likened her to Taylor Swift in the final days before the election, while Braley ran an ad painting her as a “chick” in an early ad that was denounced as sexist.)

Related: With Joni Ernst win, a star is born in Iowa

Arkansas – Tom Cotton

Republican Tom Cotton, 37, defeated Democrat Senator Mark Pryor on Thursday after slamming the two-term senator repeatedly on Obamacare (he promises to repeal) and national security, complaining that the country was “defenseless” on its Southern border and that the Islamic State is working with the Mexican drug cartels, something U.S. officials unilaterally refuted.

Cotton made his political debut while still in the Army in 2006, when he penned a letter calling for the prosecution and imprisonment of two New York Times reporters who broke a story about how the government tracks the financing behind terrorists. The letter earned him the affection of the right wing; five years later, he secured establishment support when he ran to replace a retiring Democrat in Arkansas’ 4th district. Just a year into his first term he announced he’d challenge Pryor. 

The Republican’s 19 months in Congress earned him solid conservative credentials. The Club for Growth PAC -- Cotton’s earliest national supporter and a big fundraiser for him -- gave him a 92% scorecard, while the Heritage Foundation gave him 82%. Many of his most austere votes went against how the rest of the Arkansas delegation voted, like when he voted against Sandy disaster relief -- “I don’t think Arkansas needs to bail out the Northeast” -- and the farm bill, despite the fact that he represented 33 rural counties at the time.

Related: The 5 biggest GOP whoppers this election cycle

Colorado – Cory Gardner

Republican Rep. Cory Gardner defeated Democrat Sen. Mark Udall on Tuesday, according to NBC News projections, suggesting nationwide that the state might not be the minority-driven Democratic stronghold they thought it was turning into. Gardner capitalized on voters’ discontent with the president and refused to be caricatured as a hardcore conservative, though his voting record placed him clearly on his party’s right flank.

A fifth-generation Coloradan, Gardner got his start in agriculture (his family owns a farm equipment dealership) and was elected to the House of Representatives in 2005; in 2007, he was appointed minority whip.

A fiscal conservative, Gardner wants to cut taxes and has agreed to Grover Norquist’s pledge to never hike taxes to help mitigate climate change; a social conservative, he opposes emergency contraception and co-sponsored a federal Personhood act, though he later disavowed it in Colorado.

The race turned reproductive rights into a top issue, with Udall hitting Gardner relentlessly over his opposition to abortion, while the Republican fought back with ads saying birth control should be available over the counter. The Democrat won women, but lost men, Christians, and older voters, who were Gardner’s base in Tuesday’s win.

West Virginia – Shelley Moore Capito

The six-term West Virginia Republican representative sailed to a victory on Tuesday, defeating Democrat Natalie Tennant. She will be the first women ever elected to the U.S. Senate from the state -- and the first Republican senator from West Virginia in more than 50 years.

Capito comes from a long-time political family: her father represented the Mountain State in Congress and was elected governor three times. Capito, who has clashed with the tea party over cuts to federal programs and on social issues, has said Roe v. Wade shouldn’t be overturned (though she has voted to ban abortions after 20 weeks).

North Carolina – Thom Tillis

Republican Thom Tillis defeated Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan on Tuesday night by just two points, after relentlessly tying the incumbent Democrat to the president. 

As the Republican Speaker of the North Carolina House, Tillis’ record looks like a list of GOP talking points: he passed deep budget cuts that gutted education funding, a strict anti-abortion law, and rejected the federal Medicaid expansion that deprived thousands of insurance. He reduced unemployment benefits and passed a voter ID law critics say will disenfranchise many in the 2016 election.

South Dakota - Mike Rounds

Republican Mike Rounds won 51.6% of the vote in a four-way race on Tuesday, outperforming expectations just a month after political commenters speculated that Democrat Rick Weiland or Independent Larry Pressler might pose a credible threat in the red state that sometimes lean blue thanks to a historic reliance on farm aid. Rounds’ luck improved when he began painting the race as a referendum on the president's policies. "A vote for any one of my opponents is a vote for President Obama's failed policies," Rounds said on the trail. The former governor ran his first attack ads of his career during the race, tying his opponents to Obama.

Photo essay: Voters, young and old, take to polls

Rounds served as the governor of the state from 2003 to 2011 after jumping into that race as an outspent underdog. His campaign for Senate earned endorsements of everyone from the Tea Party Express to 2012 nominee former Gov. Mitt Romney. While governor, Rounds signed legislation put an abortion ban—except in cases of rape, incest, and saving the mother’s life—on the ballot; voters shot it down.

"You challenge the president," Rounds said after his win. "You send the message to the president saying, 'We'll work with you, Mr. President, but your policies are not working in the vast part of South Dakota or the rest of the country.'"

Montana – Steve Daines

Republican Rep. Steve Daines snagged another Democrat-held seat in the Senate on Tuesday night, winning easily against his opponent Democratic state Rep. Amanda Curtis.

For Democrats, Montana—a state the president lost in 2012—was always going to be an uphill battle, but their hopes were largely squashed when interim Democratic Sen. John Walsh withdrew from the race in August after reports of plagiarism.

Daines campaigned on his support of the Keystone XL pipeline and gun rights, but also touted his bipartisan votes for the Violence Against Women Act, earning wide support in the right-of-center state.

Georgia – David Perdue

Senator-elect David Perdue, 64, is a political newcomer, albeit one from a storied political family: His cousin Sonny Perdue was a former Georgia governor. Perdue campaigned on his record as a top business executive, having been the former CEO of Reebok, Dollar General Corporation and clothing manufacturer Pillotex. After beginning his career in management consulting, Perdue was well regarded in the business world for being able to turn around ailing businesses and spent years working overseas for multinational corporations. During the campaign, he successfully fought back Democratic attempts to paint him as a heartless multimillionaire who focused on outsourcing jobs. 

Before defeating Democrat Michelle Nunn, Perdue bested a crowded primary by running against “career politicians.” A self-avowed fiscal hawk, Perdue has called the federal debt the biggest threat to national security and supports a balanced budget amendment. He wants to preserve entitlement benefits for those who are already receiving them but change the terms for younger beneficiaries. “Their deal is going to have to be different,” he said on the campaign trail. 

Perdue says it’s necessary to raise revenue to reduce the deficit, but he’s also signed a pledge refusing to raise taxes. Perdue favors a so-called “fair tax” that would replace all income, estate, and employment taxes with a single tax on consumption. He’s already found a friend in Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who came to Georgia to campaign for him. Perdue himself said that he supported Cruz’s push to shutdown the government over Obamacare, which he also wants to repeal. “Georgians know Obamacare can’t be fixed, and if elected to the U.S. Senate, I will work tirelessly to repeal this law and replace it with a solution that works to lower costs and put patients in control of their health care decisions,” Perdue said

Additional reporting by Suzy Khimm from Georgia, Benjy Sarlin from Colorado, Trymaine Lee from North Carolina, and Alex Seitz-Wald from Iowa.