An Iowa Democrat running to unseat Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) said during his campaign launch that the first-term senator and combat veteran's military experience has hamstrung her ability to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Eddie Mauro, a Des Moines man with no military experience, told supporters at his campaign launch that Ernst was conditioned by the military to "fall in line," according to video of the event obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
"Joni Ernst served our country in the National Guard, I applaud her for that, I respect that," Mauro said. "I would argue, though, that this kind of service is a little bit different."
"In military service, you kind of fall in line, they tell you what to do and you do what they tell you to do, that's what it's supposed to be about," he continued. "In public service I think there are times you need to step out of line to say, I'm sorry Mr. Trump, you're wrong."
Ernst, deployed overseas at the start of the Iraq war in 2003, attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. She became the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate when she was elected in 2014.
Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, called it "shameful" to question whether her leadership role in the military was a negative quality.
"It is shameful that Iowa Democrats think laying down one’s life for their country isn’t the kind of courage it takes to serve in Congress," Kaufmann said in a statement to the Free Beacon. "As the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, Ernst knows how to lead soldiers and stand up for Iowa values in Congress."
"We need more people with this kind of leadership experience in the U.S. Senate," Kauffman said.
Mauro's decision to go after Ernst for her military service as a negative is unconventional for candidates on either side of the aisle. Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton, a Democrat who was deployed to Iraq as a Marine, has made it his mission in recent years to recruit more military veterans to run for office.
Mauro has decided, however, to stand by his comment on Ernst.
"What we’re saying is that this requires a different kind of courage," Mauro told a local outlet when asked about the criticism. "This requires standing up and saying, ‘I’m not falling in line because that line is not the right line.’ All I’m saying is it’s a different kind of service."
Mauro has twice failed to advance through Democratic primaries in recent years, failing first in a run for the Iowa state legislature and then for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.