Iowa’s Ernst to deliver GOP response to Obama address


Age: 44

Hometown: Red Oak, Iowa

Education: Iowa State University, Columbus State University

Career: 21 years of military service, including 14 months in Kuwait as a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom; her current rank is lieutenant colonel. Elected Montgomery County, Iowa, auditor in 2004 and reelected in 2008. Winning a special selection for state Senate in 2011, she was reelected in 2012. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in November and began her term this month.

Family: Husband, Gail, daughter, Libby.

Republican officials on Thursday tapped newly elected Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst to deliver the party’s formal response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address next Tuesday, selecting a fresh face to represent the party at the start of a new Congress.

Ernst, 44, was elected to her seat in November, capturing it after years of Democratic control.

“She is a perfect choice. Americans voted for change,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as he and House Speaker John Boehner announced Ernst’s selection at a joint retreat of House and Senate Republicans in Hershey, Pa.

Ernst said her message would be about building a stronger economy for future generations. She also will likely cite her experience in the National Guard, including a deployment to Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom, in discussing America’s foreign policy challenges.

Ernst is the first woman elected to federal office from Iowa and the Senate’s first female combat veteran. She is the second female lawmaker in a row to be picked to deliver the Republican response to Obama’s annual address to Congress. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington gave the 2014 response.

Ernst has already begun to build a national profile and expand her base of support beyond the tea party wing of Republicans that endorsed her candidacy. She received help in her campaign to defeat Democrat Bruce Braley from potential White House aspirants — most notably Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who delivered the 2013 Republican State of the Union response.

“It’s a long way from Red Oak, Iowa, to Washington, D.C., but now that I am here, I am excited to get to work in order to craft and implement real solutions as we chart a new path forward for our great nation,” Ernst said in a statement.

Ernst, who succeeded five-term Democrat Tom Harkin, gained national attention for a campaign ad in which she bragged that she “grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm.”

“So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” she said, adding: “Washington is full of big spenders. Let’s make them squeal.”

The State of the Union response, given each year by the party not in control of the White House, can be a high-risk, potentially high-reward opportunity for whoever is chosen to give it.

Rubio’s address two years ago was generally well-received except for an impromptu moment in which Rubio, in front of the camera, took a gulp from a bottle of water. That prompted a flurry of comments on Twitter, including one from Rubio poking fun at himself by posting a picture of the bottle.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2009 performance was panned and seen as hampering his national political aspirations. But Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 State of the Union response helped elevate his profile the year before presidential nominee Mitt Romney chose him as his running mate.