Sen. Joni Ernst speaks with community members on April 12, 2022, at The Bread Basket in Manchester. Ernst told Politico on Sunday that she is running for Republican Conference Chair, the No. 3 position in GOP leadership in the U.S. Senate. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst will run for the No. 3 position in Senate Republican leadership, challenging Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas for the position.

Ernst’s bid for Republican Conference Chair was first reported in Politico on Monday. Ernst’s office confirmed her candidacy to the Quad-City Times.

In an interview with Politico on Sunday, Ernst depicted herself as an “outsider” as she seeks to advance in Senate leadership.

“Absolutely, this is winnable for me. And we shouldn’t be afraid of elections, for heaven’s sake,” Ernst told Politico.

Ernst holds the No. 4 position in the Senate GOP leadership as chair of the Republican Policy Committee. The bid comes amid a shake-up after Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced he was stepping down from leadership after 17 years at the helm of the caucus.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota have announced their candidacies for the top Senate GOP position. The current Republican Conference Chair, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, will run for Republican whip, opening up the No. 3 position.

Cotton, who does not hold a leadership position, announced his candidacy last week.

Now in her second term in the Senate, Ernst first was elected to leadership as vice chair of the Senate GOP conference in 2018. In 2022, she became the chair of the Republican Policy Committee and is the highest-ranking Republican woman in the Senate.

Ernst told Politico she would look critically at legislation that comes before the caucus and take on difficult issues.

“I take a very honest view at whatever legislation is put in front of us,” Ernst told Politico. “There are those in our conference that don’t want to have those hard conversations, because they’re hard to message. But I’m not afraid.”

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