January 15, 2015 3:02 PM EST

Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst will give the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union next week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday.

The Iowa senator, who won a closely watched race in November, is the first woman to represent Iowa in either chamber in Congress.

“She is a perfect choice,” McConnell said. “Americans voted for change and Senator Ernst will explain what the new Congress will do and what it is already doing to return Washington’s focus to the concerns of the middle class and away from the demands of the political class.”

The assignment is not an easy one. The State of the Union carries with it all of the pageantry of the imperial presidency, making the response often seem lackluster by comparison.

Since the tradition started in 1966, the response has varied in format, with the speaker sometimes talking to a small group, alone in front of a camera, in a more informal setting or even at a governor’s mansion.

Ernst said she was “humbled and honored” to give the response.

“It is a long way from Red Oak to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Growing up on a southwest Iowa farm years ago, I never, never would have imagined that I would have this opportunity.”

— With Alex Rogers

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