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Senate Candidate Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst grew up in Red Oak, Iowa, walking bean fields and canning food.

She fed hogs and, as has been recounted in a campaign ad that has gone viral, sometimes castrated them. Ernst, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate next month, said that experience shows her view on cutting pork — and having a strong work ethic.

“My parents taught us to work very, very hard. We didn’t have extras as kids,” Ernst said. “That set the stage for my future activities, to know that if you want to achieve something, you have to work very hard for it.”

She’s now a state senator from Red Oak and a military unit commander, duties that followed a six-year stint as Montgomery County auditor. Ernst has lived 34 of her 43 years in Iowa and, she said, understands the conservative penchant of people in the state.

Ernst has an opportunity to become the first female from Iowa elected to federal office. But she doesn’t approach her campaign pitching the Elect-A-Woman theme.

“It is not based on gender, you know. If you are right for the job, you are right for the job,” Ernst said.

Ernst is in a Republican field that includes former U.S. attorney Matt Whitaker, of Ankeny; college professor Sam Clovis, of Hinton; retired energy executive Mark Jacobs, of West Des Moines; and auto salesman Scott Schaben, of Ames. A June primary election will determine the Republican nominee, and Rep. Bruce Braley is the presumptive Democratic candidate.

In the most recent fundraising period, Ernst had $427,000 in campaign cash on hand and Jacobs, who has self-funded more than $1 million of his campaign, had $353,000.

Ernst has nabbed numerous endorsements, such at Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, 2008 vice president candidate Sarah Palin, and 2012 president candidate Mitt Romney. The Iowa Republican website founder Craig Robinson said he’s intrigued by the perception that Ernst is seen as an establishment candidate in Iowa and a tea party favorite outside the state.

Ernst said she’s only concerned with connecting with Iowans. She acknowledges she was relative unknown outside of Montgomery County when launching her campaign in 2013.

“This could be a great capstone, to move onto the U.S. Senate,” Ernst said.

She is the only candidate who can point to legislative experience. But having a voting record has been problematic at times for Ernst, as opponents have noted her movement on a gas tax increase. She’s also had to defend her frequent absences from the Legislature.

Ernst said her missed days in the Iowa Senate were due to National Guard battalion commander duties and the necessity of campaigning activities from being a candidate for statewide office.

“I am very much trying to do all my duties. … I hate that I had to miss some votes,” she said.

Her conservative principles involve reducing taxes, passing a constitutional balanced budget amendment, defending traditional values on marriage and protecting gun rights.

“We do not need a federal government that is coming down on gun owners and placing restrictions here and there,” Ernst said.

She conceded being surprised by national attention garnered from the “Squeal” ad citing pig castration. Ernst first used the line in a fall 2013 forum, “and the audience reacted so strongly.”

Her team quickly learned that “it is something that will really play well with Iowa voters,” Ernst said. “I had no idea that it would take off like that nationally.”

–from the Quad-City Times

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