In the middle of filming the now famous “Squeal” ad on a farm in rural Southwest Iowa, mother nature interrupted.
Right next door to the farrowing room where a big-league filming crew had set up shop, a mother cow was giving birth to a cow but was having trouble.
“The veterinarian had to come in and help the momma cow out because she was having problems with the calf. The crew just thought that was wonderful,” says Iowa State Senator Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), laughing.
The resulting thirty seconds of footage begins memorably with Ernst saying “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm.” In the three days since the clip first appeared at Breitbart News, it’s made appearances on the Tonight Show, the Colbert Report and all over the Internet, with the YouTube video garnering over 300,000 views.
“Oh my gosh. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable! I was really blown away,” Ernst says about when she learned the clip would air on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.
Her bout with celebrity is a far cry from Ernst’s upbringing near Stanton, Iowa, a town of about 700 where she lives.
She grew up on a farm of several hundred acres. Her family had about 80-100 hogs and also grew corn and soy beans. Chores included normal farm duties like riding tractors and “walking beans,” she says, but the much more graphic castrating experience came up in an early discussion about attributes that might set her apart with campaign aides last summer.
When I mention I grew up near Washington, D.C., Ernst says, “Oh…” like I’ve just relayed unfortunate news. In Iowa, she explains, castrating hogs is just part of life – a “family activity,” even.
“It’s not that difficult at all. It really isn’t. You would just separate those that needed to be castrated. You’d catch ‘em. You’d hold ‘em down. And, there you go,” she says, chuckling.
“Let me tell you. I have had more people call me and text me over the last couple of days and say, ‘Hey Joni, I used to castrate hogs, too!'” she adds.
Ernst is locked in a tough GOP primary for an open U.S. Senate seat against wealth businessman Mark Jacobs, who has propelled himself to an early lead by blanketing the state with radio and television ads.
But the last few weeks have been good for Ernst. In early March, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney endorsed her. This week former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin did as well, something Ernst predicts will have a major impact on the race.
Considered one of several viable conservatives against the more liberal Jacobs, Ernst says she is in a great place heading into the June 3 primary.
She touts her record in the Iowa state senate where she helped bring deficit spending under control over the last few years.
“I am the only one with that proven record. So I can go back and say, you know what? I am the only one that served in the legislature and who has worked with these kinds of budgets. I’ve made these kinds of difficult decisions,” she says.
If she wins the primary, she’ll likely be up against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who demonstrated this week just what a minefield it can be for politicians to illustrate their authenticity.
Braley was caught on tape mocking Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley as a mere “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” Then he issued a press release touting his agriculture bona fides but misspelled several common farming terms. To cap it off, a photo of a farm he posted on Facebook was from a farm in England.
Ernst’s ad, in stark contrast, is playing well – using humor to underscore a serious message of spending cuts. The next few months will show whether it’s enough to win a senate seat.