Iowa Senate hopeful off to Guard duty gives GOP address

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DES MOINES, Iowa — A new item on Lt. Col. Joni Ernst’s checklist as she packed up for two weeks of annual training with the Iowa National Guard: denounce the health care law in the weekly Republican radio address.

An Iowa state senator who is running for the U.S. Senate, Ernst is leaving the campaign just as her bid against Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley is heating up. She won a five-way Republican primary last month and immediately joined Braley in a fierce back-and-forth over who should take the place of retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.

Then duty called. Just hours after she taped the Republicans’ national address Thursday night, Ernst drove two hours in the dark from her rural southwest Iowa home to join her unit. She was assigned to lead a convoy of trucks to Wisconsin for two weeks of drilling at Fort McCoy.

Amid her preparations, Ernst recorded the GOP counter to President Barack Obama’s weekly message, replete with criticism of Obama’s health care law — “we need to start over” — and calls for a balanced budget amendment. She also says that programs such as Medicare and Social Security “must be reformed so America not only keeps its promise to today’s seniors but is also able to guarantee that a safety net is available for our children and grandchildren.”

Ernst introduced herself on air as a member of the Iowa Army National Guard. “In fact, I’m recording this message a few days early,” she said. “And by the time you hear this, I will be on active duty.”

A veteran of the Iraq war, Ernst spent a year as a transportation company commander leading daily convoys of roughly 60 trucks between Kuwait and Iraq.

THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press

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