The Iowan is Congress's proud (and maybe first) hog-castrator

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated November 06, 2014 12:15 PM
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Credit: Daniel Acker/Getty

Of all the big Republican wins in the midterm elections, Joni Ernst’s in Iowa may be the biggest, as it helped swing the Senate to GOP control, in one of the fiercest contests.

Democrats saw Iowa state Sen. Ernst, 44, as a serious threat, enlisting Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton to campaign for Ernst’s opponent, Bruce Braley, in the race for the seat that had been occupied for 29 years by the retiring Democrat Tom Harkin.

When this new star of the Republican Party is sworn into office in January, she will become Iowa’s first woman in the U.S. Senate. Until then, here are five things to know about her:

1. She knows a good sound bite
One of Ernst’s first campaign ads immediately got national attention for her opening line: “I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.”

2. and she knows how to milk a good sound bite.
Roundly defeating Democrat Braley, Ernst returned Tuesday night to the much-quoted theme that made her so appealing to fellow conservatives who prioritize deep cuts to government spending and to pig farmers. “We are heading to Washington!” she exulted to supporters. “And we are going to make ’em squeal!”

3. Her husband, however, can be less elegant with his words.
The senator-elect has been married since 1992 to Command Sergeant Major Gail Ernst, a retired U.S. Army Ranger; their daughter, Libby, is in high school.

Earlier this year some of Gail’s past social media posts stirred trouble for Ernst’s campaign. In one, he called then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano a “traitorous skank,” and in another he labeled former Secretary of State Clinton a “hag.”

His wife condemned the remarks, saying she was “appalled,” and her husband apologized publicly.

4. She’s an Iraq War veteran.
When Ernst was at Iowa State University, she spent some time on a farm in the Soviet Union as part of an agricultural exchange. She says that experience stoked a patriotism that led her to join the Army National Reserves and Iowa Army National Guard, where she has served 21 years.

In 2003, Ernst was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and, with her unit, ran convoys though Kuwait into southern Iraq.

5. She is not flattered by comparisons to Taylor Swift.
The Lt. Colonel was not amused – “very offended,” actually, she said – when, in the closing days of this campaign, Harkin called her “really attractive” and warned Iowans: “I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

“If my name had been ‘John Ernst,’ attached to my résumé, Senator Harkin would not have said those things,” Ernst replied. “It’s unfortunate that he and many of their party believe that you can’t be a real woman if you’re conservative and you’re female.”

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