In Depth

Joni Ernst: is this pig-castrating gun-lover the new Sarah Palin?

Republican senate candidate Joni Ernst is a 'Mama Grizzly' who wants to make Washington 'squeal'

Joni Ernst, a Republican senate candidate in Iowa, is being described as the heir to Sarah Palin after releasing a campaign video in which she boasts of castrating pigs.

The 43-year-old, who grew up helping out on her family's farm, was elected to the Iowa Senate four years ago and is now narrowly leading the field ahead of the Republican primary on 3 June. If elected, she has pledged to make Washington "squeal".

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has thrown her support behind Ernst, telling a rally earlier this month: "I haven't been this excited about a candidate in quite a while." So just how much have the two women got in common?

Politics If Ernst wins the nomination and goes on to beat Democrat Bruce Baley, she would become Iowa's first female senator and the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate. Palin was the youngest person and first woman to be elected governor of Alaska, a position she held from December 2006 until her resignation in July 2009. Both women are pro-life, pro-Constitution and anti-gay-marriage. They both want to see the US living within its means.

Gun-toting Like Palin, Ernst is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment and carries a gun everywhere she goes. The Iowa Democratic Party has even nicknamed her "Pistol-Packin' Joni". Unlike Palin, Ernst is a lieutenant colonel in Iowa Army National Guard and was deployed to Iraq in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She recently commanded the largest battalion in Iowa, made up of more than 1,200 men and women. In a second campaign video, Ernst is seen at a shooting range "taking aim" at wasteful spending and Obamacare. "Joni doesn't miss much," says the narrator, as Ernst shows off a bullseye full of holes.

Mama Grizzlies Ernst's gun-toting and hog-castrating has ensured her reputation as a "Mama Grizzly" like Palin, says The Wire. Palin coined the term in 2010 to describe "common-sense conservative women" who are rising up to protect their young and the next generation of Americans. Both Ernst and Palin have children and grandchildren, and have made their "All-American mom" role key to their campaigns – Palin as the "PTA hockey mom" and Ernst as a self-proclaimed "Mom, farm girl, and lieutenant colonel".

Spoofability Ernst's campaign ads are already gaining traction on the late-night comedy circuit, where Palin was once a number one target. Both Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert have poked fun at her 'Squeal' campaign video, in which she tells viewers: "I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork." Palin was seen as a gift to political satirists, with Saturday Night Live airing several critically acclaimed sketches parodying the vice-presidential nominee. Ernst might not be winning Emmys for Tina Fey just yet, but she has certainly grabbed the nation's attention.

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