Joni Ernst rose to prominence on the back of an ad about castrating hogs, but she’s about to be known for something else: being the new star of the Republican Party.

Born in the small farming town of Stanton, Ernst managed to defeat Rep. Bruce Braley in the race for retiring Senator Tom Harkin’s seat at least in part on the strength of her personal narrative and charm.  “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm,” she said in her infamous ad, promising to  “make 'em squeal” in Washington.

But it wasn’t a farm in Iowa that put her on the path to the U.S. Senate, it was one in the Soviet state of Ukraine. Back in 1989 while Ernst was at Iowa State University she took part in an agricultural exchange on a family farm in the Soviet Union. By her own account, the experience seeing a suffering country led her to realize how much she loved the United States. She would go on to spend 21 years in the Army National Reserves and the Iowa Army National Guard to express that patriotism.

She was a commander in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and up until [TK] led the largest battalion in the state as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.

In addition to her Iowa and military bonafides, Ernst is a conservative’s conservative.  She supported a “personhood” amendment that could make all abortions illegal, she has called for the impeachment of President Barack Obama, and has said that she would for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.

Democrats had hoped that her conservative views would be beyond what the purple state would be willing to vote for. Their guy, Braley, was always thought of as being the senator-in-waiting, destined to replace Tom Harkin when he retired. It turned out, perhaps, that was part of the problem.