By Cristina Marcos - 01/20/15 11:11 PM EST
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) focused on the GOP's policy priorities for the new Congress, rather than making a direct response to President Obama's proposals, in her party's official response Tuesday night.
Ernst, a freshman senator who just won election in November, delivered a polished speech shortly after Obama's address. The Iowa Republican worked in plenty of smiles and more than a few folksy references to her modest middle-class upbringing throughout her remarks.
"As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees," Ernst said. “We were raised to live simply, not to waste."
Ernst recalled how she had to make do with "only one good pair of shoes" during her childhood and resorted to wearing bread bags over her shoes to prevent water damage.
"You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry," Ernst said.
“But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet," she continued.
While much of the speech focused on Ernst's middle America upbringing, she touched upon top Republican priorities including approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, tax reform, trade reform, cybersecurity, abortion and reining in ObamaCare.
“You’ll see a lot of serious work in this new Congress," Ernst said.
Ernst further highlighted her military service, and even wore camouflage-colored heels for the speech, which was broadcast from the Senate Armed Services Committee room.
"For two decades, I’ve proudly worn our nation’s uniform; today, as a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. While deployed overseas with some of America’s finest men and women, I’ve seen just how dangerous these kinds of threats can be," Ernst said of al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “The forces of violence and oppression don’t care about the innocent. We need a comprehensive plan to defeat them."
Ernst avoided any oddities during her speech, unlike two recent GOP responses to the State of the Union.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had to reach for a bottle of water in the middle of speaking two years ago, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal endured critiques of his stilted delivery in 2009.