The first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate has some high-profile support in the hottest political guessing game of the moment: Who will be Donald Trump's running mate?

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, received the endorsement of her state's Republican governor, Terry Branstad, on Monday, with Branstad telling reporters he hoped to make Ernst's case personally to Trump before July's Republican convention in Cleveland.

"I think that if you want to put together an ideal profile of somebody who would be a great vice presidential candidate, she would be helpful to Republicans in Iowa, as well," Branstad said, according to the Des Moines Register. The governor said he's reached out to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and other top Trump team members to speak on behalf of Ernst, who retired from the Iowa National Guard as a lieutenant colonel in November.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP's 2008 nominee, called Ernst a "tremendous" choice during a CNN interview after a reporter brought her up as a possible vice presidential nominee. McCain also mentioned House Speaker Paul Ryan, who seconded 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, as a strong choice, before adding, "I'm not sure he would want to do that again."

The speculation surrounding Ernst, who served as a company commander in Iraq and Kuwait in 2003, resembles that surrounding more than a dozen Republican politicians who could join a Trump ticket.

Ernst told Politico she was "focusing on Iowa right now" but did not take herself out of the VP sweepstakes. Some likely reasons why she's part of it:

  • Trump told CNBC on May 5 that he was seeking someone who "could get legislation through," which points toward the House or Senate.
  • Trump has expressed his support for service members and veterans on multiple occasions, but has come under fire from McCain and others for his comments regarding captured troops and for his refusal to account fully for millions in donations his campaign pledged would go to veterans groups after a February fundraiser. Ernst's experience in uniform and as a Senate Armed Services Committee member could blunt such criticism.
  • Trump lost the Iowa caucus to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and could use support in the battleground state during the general election.
  • Trump's supporters, many of whom have identified as angry at or dissatisfied with the federal government in exit polling, may be swayed by Ernst's well-known pledge to make Washington leaders "squeal" — part of a 2014 campaign commercial involving pig castration that launched the senator's successful election effort.

Ernst appeared with Rubio in Iowa in the early stages of the GOP presidential nomination campaign, but did not expressly endorse her fellow senator.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst briefly hit the campaign trail with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in January when Rubio (and more than a dozen others) were battling eventual presumptive nominee Donald Trump in the Iowa caucus, the first contest in the Republican presidential nomination process.

Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.

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