State senator Ernst eyeing U.S. Senate bid

Says her interest intensified after Reynolds' decision not to run

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State Sen. Joni Ernst, a Red Oak Republican, said Wednesday she is considering a bid for the 2014 GOP nomination for Iowa’s U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s retirement.

Ernst, a former Montgomery County auditor who has served in the Iowa Senate since 2010, said she has been considering a U.S. Senate bid for some time, but that interest moved up a notch this week when Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced that she would not seek the Senate seat next year.

“Now that the lieutenant governor has said that she will not seek that office, it’s time for me to start stepping up,” Ernst said in an interview. “Yes, it’s something that I’ve thought about. I’m not a candidate yet, but I am very seriously considering this.”

Ernst, a member of the U.S. Army Reserves and the Iowa Army National Guard who spent 14 months mobilized and overseas in Kuwait in 2003-2004 at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, entered politics in a special election to replace Reynolds when she made a successful bid as Gov. Terry Branstad’s running mate in 2010.

She was re-elected in 2012 and, due to redistricting, has represented 10 counties in southwest Iowa during her three years as a state senator.

Ernst noted that running for a statewide office in 2014 would be “a big step” and a “daunting process” compared to her past experience running for the state Senate. But she added “I think it can be done and I think that I’m a person who can do that.”

Ernst said she would not enter the 2014 GOP field if current 4th District U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, would decide to run for the U.S. Senate. If he chooses not to compete, she said she would consider a bid even if it meant facing a primary challenge for a post also being eyed by Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz and other possible GOP contenders.

“I think I’m a viable candidate. I want to verify that, but I think I am just as well suited for this office as any of the other candidates out there right now,” said Ernst, who expected to make a final decision whether to run in the next month.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Waterloo Democrat who represents Iowa’s 1st congressional district in northeast Iowa, is the only announced Democrat, and last weekend added Harkin to the growing list of Democrats who have endorsed his 2014 U.S. Senate bid.

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