Republican Joni Ernst, a state senator and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard who highlighted her family’s roots in farming—most memorably in an ad where she mentioned her experience castrating hogs—will be her state’s first female senator after defeating four-term Rep. Bruce Braley to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
Born and raised on a farm in Montgomery County, Ernst won scholarships to attend Iowa State University, where she majored in psychology. She then joined the National Guard and later was deployed to Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She held a series of jobs after obtaining her master’s degree in public administration at Columbus State University. She was elected Montgomery County auditor in 2004, serving two terms before winning election to the Iowa Senate in 2010.
Ernst won the five-way primary for the U.S. Senate seat, clearing the 35 percent threshold required to avoid a nominating convention. Potential Republican 2016 presidential contenders raced into Iowa to help Ernst, who raised millions—$6 million in the third quarter alone. She advocated for reforms of Veterans Affairs, a balanced-budget amendment, and limited government involvement in the economy. She called for abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, Education Department, and Environmental Protection Agency.
She made national headlines for her comments on gun control. At a National Rifle Association convention in 2012, she said she would defend herself with a gun if necessary: “I have a beautiful little Smith & Wesson, 9 millimeter, and it goes with me virtually everywhere.” She made the comment shortly after 12 people were killed and 58 others wounded in a shooting rampage in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. In a campaign ad this year, Ernst aimed a gun at the camera as a narrator said, “Joni Ernst will take aim at wasteful spending, and once she sets her sights on Obamacare, Joni’s gonna unload.”
In another ad, she appeared with pigs and said: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.… Washington’s full of big spenders, let’s make them squeal.”
The ads stirred some controversy, but Ernst was aided in the race by an unpopular Democratic president, a favorable political climate for the GOP, and Braley’s gaffes. Earlier this year, Braley called the state’s popular senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, a “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”
In the race’s final weeks, Ernst edged ahead of Braley among male voters, although Braley held an advantage among women. Democrats tried to paint Ernst as too far right for the state, but it didn’t help.
The election of Doug Ducey as governor reaffirmed the hold of the GOP’s conservative faction on Arizona politics. The former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery lauded his business background and experience as state treasurer, yet hinted at the potential for negotiation on major issues that outgoing GOP Gov. Jan Brewer has faced.
A native of Ohio, Ducey moved to Arizona to attend Arizona State University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in finance in 1986. After college he went into sales and marketing at Procter & Gamble. He helped launch Cold Stone Creamery in 1996, selling the company with a partner in 2007. He then sought public office and was elected treasurer in 2010; the party quickly pinpointed him as a rising star with potential for national office. But he took some heat from Cold Stone franchise owners—later joined by the Arizona Democratic Party—who noted the high default rate on Small Business Administration loans used for the franchises.
When Brewer announced she was not running for reelection, Ducey entered the field with four other Republicans. Brewer backed former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith in the primary, but Ducey won easily, having amassed support from such conservatives as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and GOP Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. He also had the support of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.
Ducey then faced Democrat Fred DuVal, a former Clinton administration staffer and lobbyist. Ducey promoted his leading opposition to an ultimately unsuccessful proposition on the ballot for a permanent $1 billion-a-year tax increase. He supported Brewer’s appeal of a state Supreme Court ruling requiring the legislature to pay the public school system more than $300 for failing to make annual inflation adjustments to base funding—reaching an estimated $1.6 billion over five years. But he said he supported the idea of a settlement as well.
Ducey also backed Brewer’s veto of a bill that would have permitted a legal defense for individuals and businesses facing discrimination lawsuits if they acted upon a religious belief. But he said he would have supported an amendable solution for all parties; he supports some protections for religious beliefs. He also supports limiting the definition of marriage to that between a man and a woman, and opposes granting benefits to domestic partners of gay state employees, but he says he will always comply with the law.
In October, Ducey’s campaign released an ad calling DuVal a “special-interest lobbyist” who supports President Obama’s desire to give amnesty to illegal immigrants, and Republicans highlighted that DuVal had driven on a suspended driver’s license. Meanwhile, the Democratic Governors Association-backed Restore Arizona’s Future sponsored an ad attacking Ducey on education cuts. Democrats also charged Ducey with seeking support from the Koch brothers, and tried to link Ducey’s Italian-American family in Ohio to organized crime.
Written by Christina L. Lyons, copyright 2015 Frederick Magazine