GOP's Joni Ernst portrayed as gun-firing sniper in Democratic challenger's campaign ad

The campaign for U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, blasted an "outrageous and offensive" new political ad posted by her 2020 Democratic challenger Thursday that depicts Ernst as firing gunshots at him while he talks about gun control, climate change, health care and taking on President Trump.

In the ad, candidate Eddie Mauro, a businessman and congressional candidate in 2018, introduces himself as a "progressive Democrat" before telling viewers he decided to run for Ernst's Senate seat in part because “our current senator, Joni Ernst, she thinks it's OK to run ads glorifying guns."

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As Mauro speaks, the video repeatedly cuts to footage from a 2014 campaign ad for Ernst showing her shooting a gun at an indoor range. Then the ad cuts back and forth to Mauro as he walks through a field with bullets whizzing by, narrowly missing him before striking a fence post, the grass, barrels and other objects. The edits make it appear as though Ernst is firing the shots at him.

"She doesn't seem to care that many of those guns will be pointed at our kids, our teachers, churchgoers, moviegoers, concertgoers, police officers," Mauro said of Ernst. "Well, I care."

After the ad went public, Ernst's campaign posted a response on Twitter.

"It's outrageous and offensive that @eddiejmauro would make light of gun violence in order to help his campaign," came the statement posted under the "Team Joni" Twitter handle. "He should be ashamed and this disgusting ad should be taken down immediately."

Later in his ad, Mauro takes aims at President Trump, referring to him as Ernst's "boss in the White House” and the Trump agenda as a “non-stop assault on our climate, on our democracy, on decency, on what it means to be an American.”

"I’m the best Democrat to take on Joni and the Washington establishment," Mauro adds. "I won’t take PAC money, I won’t accept the status quo. So, Joni Ernst, Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, the NRA — you won’t like what I have to say.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks in Washington in an undated photo. (Associated Press)

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks in Washington in an undated photo. (Associated Press)

Mauro defended pushback against the ad throughout the day Thursday on his Twitter account.

In separate tweets, Mauro advocated for the Green New Deal and promised: “to stand up to hate, take down the NRA and to flip the Senate to a progressive majority.” The 56-year-old announced his 2020 Senate campaign in May. Last year, he lost a primary challenge for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District to U.S. Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne, the Des Moines Register reported.

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Ernst, 49, is a native Iowan who served in the Iowa National Guard for more than two decades and spent 12 months in Kuwait in 2003-04 before retiring in 2015 as a lieutenant colonel. Before going to Washington in January 2015, she served as an Iowa state senator.

The divorced mother of an adult daughter made national headlines earlier this year when she revealed that she was raped by an abusive former boyfriend while she was a college student. During her divorce proceedings, Ernst also claimed that her estranged husband had been physically and verbally abusive.

Mauro also is a native Iowan, living in Des Moines with his wife and two children. He has served as a teacher and a coach in addition to running a small business, according to his campaign website.

Mauro is among four Democrats hoping to face Ernst in the general election next November. The others are Theresa Greenfield, Kimberly Graham and Michael Franken.