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Joni Ernst

DES MOINES — Republican Joni Ernst, a battalion commander in the Iowa National Guard, said Tuesday she carries a concealed weapon 90 percent of the time, including when she’s on the campaign trail seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in 2014.

“I do have a conceal carry permit and I do carry,” Ernst told members of the Des Moines Conservative Breakfast Club. A state senator from Red Oak, the mother of three said she is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association with the group’s “A” rating who is “Army qualified” on 9 millimeter and M-16 weapons.

“The Second Amendment is not just words on a piece of paper. We have the right to keep and bear arms – period, and it is something that I am willing to defend when I go to Washington D.C.,” added Ernst, who served a stint running transportation missions in Kuwait and Iraq at an Iowa Guard member.

Ernst told the breakfast gathering she is “very passionate” about gun rights, and afterwards told reporters “I carry probably 90 percent of the time” noting that she brought her “black purse” to Tuesday’s event.

“It’s something I am comfortable with. I’ve grown up with weapons. I serve in the military. I’m comfortable with that, but it is a sense of security, too,” she said.

Ernst, a former Montgomery County auditor for six years who has been a state senator for three years, is a southwest Iowa Republican seeking to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated in 2014 by the retirement of long-time Democrat Tom Harkin.

During her speech and in answering questions from the crowd, Ernst said “pretty severe cuts” will be needed in federal programs that are “going to be very painful.” She said she is a candidate who has “the intestinal fortitude to go in and take a hard look at our budget.”

“I don’t believe in an education department at the federal level. I think that is something that we could eliminate and that would save,” Ernst said. “We have to take a good, hard look at entitlement programs.”

After the event, GOP activist Frank Severino said Ernst won his vote.

“We’ll be a fool if we lose a candidate of this caliber,” he said.

“She’s got a winning personality. She shares all my values. We cannot let a candidate like this get away,” said Severino, who noted that money might be Ernst’s biggest challenge and “she’s got to do eastern Iowa big time” given she’s from the opposite side of the state.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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