COUNCIL BLUFFS — U.S. Senate hopeful Joni Ernst made her first campaign stops Wednesday, emphasizing not just her conservative beliefs but also her roles as a mother and a soldier.
Ernst, 43, a Republican state senator from Red Oak, entered the 2014 race last week to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin. On Wednesday, she appeared in Red Oak, Council Bluffs and Sioux City.
Ernst has served for more than 20 years in the military and commands a logistics battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard. She also is the mother of three and the grandmother of six.
She joins a GOP field that includes former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker, Sioux City talk show host Sam Clovis, attorney Paul Lunde and David Young, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
“I am obviously the only mother in the race,” she said in an interview. “I am the only combat veteran in the race, and I have a proven conservative record. I do think those things will set me apart.”
Her Council Bluffs appearance at Iowa Western Community College drew about 20 people.
In her remarks, which lasted about six minutes, Ernst criticized the policies of President Barack Obama, including the new health care law and cap and trade proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
“I feel that policies such as these are crushing our small businesses and our middle-class families,” she said. “It terrifies me what these policies will do to my daughters' generation, and their opportunities, if we don't do something to change course.”
Ernst did not offer many specifics. She is against abortion, but approves of an exception to save the life of the mother. She is an enthusiastic supporter of gun rights and has a concealed carry permit.
A veteran of the Iraq War — she commanded the Red Oak National Guard unit in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003 and 2004 — she said she wanted to help returning vets and their families and is concerned about backlogs in the Veterans Affairs health care system.
She was elected Montgomery County auditor in 2004 and held that job six years before winning a special election to the Iowa Senate in 2011.
“She is extremely capable,” said State Sen. Hubert Houser, R- Carson, who introduced her. “She can work with people on both sides of the aisle without giving up her principles.”
Ernst's candidacy could draw attention because Iowa is one of two states that have never elected a woman governor or to Congress.
Houser said that would help Ernst. People are looking for a reason to vote for a woman, he said, noting that Nebraska first elected Virginia Smith to the U.S. House in the 1970s and Kay Orr as governor in the 1980s. Both women were born in Iowa.
“We're overdue,” he said.
Ernst was scheduled for appearances today in Waukee, Cedar Rapids and Davenport.