Joni Ernst, a newly elected senator from Iowa and a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, will deliver the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address next week, party leaders announced Thursday.
Ernst, who became a GOP sensation early last year when she launched a television ad touting her experience as a farmer castrating hogs, represents a fresh face for the GOP and a new class of senators who gave the party a majority in the chamber last November.
Ernst defeated Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in one of the most hotly contested Senate races of 2014, becoming the first woman elected to statewide office in Iowa's history.
"I am truly humbled and honored to have this opportunity," Ernst said at a news conference with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at the joint Republican retreat here. "It is a long way from Red Oak to Washington, D.C., and growing up on a southwest Iowa farm years ago, I never, never would have imagined that I would have this opportunity."
It marks the second consecutive year Republicans have asked a woman to deliver the nationally televised, prime-time speech; Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House conference chairwoman, delivered the 2014 response.
Ernst's viral campaign ad emphasized her commitment to cutting government waste, but she said her message Tuesday 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.
Delivering the opposition response to the State of the Union address is one of the most challenging and unforgiving tasks in American politics. Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) 2013 response was remembered more for his awkward lunge for a sip of water than for any of his substantive remarks.