Joni Ernst

Joni Ernst

Republican Joni Ernst lists three primary qualifications as the basis for her bid for the U.S. Senate.

“I am a mother, I am a soldier and I’m a conservative and you’re going to hear that again and again,” Ernst said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “…Those are the core things that really define me and who I am.”

Ernst, who is the commander of an Iowa National Guard unit, formally kicked off her U.S. Senate campaign this morning in her hometown of Red Oak. She joins five Republicans who have either formally launched a campaign for the Senate or are in the “exploratory” phase of a campaign. Ernst said she’s confident she can win at least 35 percent support in next June’s GOP primary and avoid a state convention fight her competitors for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination.

“We share a lot of similar views, but at the same time I am an average Iowan that has had the opportunity to do exceptional things and really focus on those grassroots efforts and making sure through those grassroots efforts people know me as a mother, the soldier and a conservative,” Ernst said, “and that’s going to resonate with Iowa voters.”

Ernst is stressing her status as the mother of three daughters rather than as the lone female candidate in the Republican ranks.

“I think it will be very beneficial in the fact that I can relate very well to those average Iowans that are mothers. I think that is an important aspect because not only as a mother are we connected with our children, but we want the best for our children,” Ernst says. “…Making sure that we have opportunity, whether it’s economic or otherwise, opportunity for our generation, but our children’s generation. We want to protect that.”

Iowa has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate, to the U.S. House or as governor. Ernst said being a woman candidate in Iowa “very well could be” a detriment.

“I can’t make that determination today,” Ernst told Radio Iowa. “However when I look at my own candidacy, it’s about making sure that people understand that I am a viable, competent candidate, regardless of my gender.”

Ernst is 42 years old and is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard. She served as Montgomery County’s Auditor for six years before being elected to the state Senate in January of 2011. The others who have formally announced their candidacies for the Republican Party’s U.S. Senate nomination are Des Moines lawyer Matt Whitaker; David Young, who was Senator Chuck Grassley’s chief of staff; and Sam Clovis, a Morningside College professor who signed off as a radio talk show host in Sioux City to run. Mark Jacobs, an Iowa native who recently moved back to central Iowa after retiring from a Texas energy company, launched an exploratory campaign committee a few weeks ago.

Ernst plans stops in Council Bluffs and Sioux City this afternoon. She’ll campaign in Waukee, Cedar Rapids and Davenport tomorrow.