With not one — but two — Iowa women winning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday, Iowa no longer has the dubious distinction of being one of only five states in the nation to never elect a woman to the House.
“We’re delighted to have achieved equity in our federal delegation from Iowa,” said Melissa Gesing, executive director of 50-50 by 2020, a nonpartisan group that advocates for gender parity in politics. “That is a momentous occasion.”
Dubuque Democrat Abby Finkenauer beat Republican Rod Blum, a two-term incumbent, to claim Iowa’s District 1, which includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque. Finkenauer won 50.9 percent of the vote, compared to Blum’s 45.97 percent.
Finkenauer, 29, “not only made history here in Iowa, but made history nationally to be one of the youngest women elected to the House of Representatives,” said state Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.
Cindy Axne, a Des Moines Democrat, ousted Republican incumbent David Young in District 3 with 49 percent of the vote, compared to Young’s 47.49 percent.
With national results still being tabulated early Wednesday, it appears more women will serve in the U.S. House than ever before and 2018 will top 1992 -- first dubbed the Year of the Woman -- for the number of freshman women elected to the House.
Before Tuesday, Iowa was one of only five states — including North Dakota, Mississippi, Vermont and Alaska — to not have elected a woman to the House. Joni Ernst, a Republican, became Iowa’s first female U.S. Senator in 2014.
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Women made up 34 percent of the candidates running for office in Iowa during this midterm election, up from 26 percent in 2016, according to data compiled by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics at Iowa State University.
Democratic women were mobilized to run by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, said Kelly Winfrey, interim director of the center. Other catalysts have been a shortage of female officeholders and the MeToo movement, she said.
“The MeToo movement has really politicized sexual harassment and assault, so it’s a gendered issue that is being talked about by the candidates,” Winfrey said.
Axne told Des Moines business leaders last month she fought off an attacker in the late 1980s when she was living in Chicago, the Des Moines Register reported.
Jochum said she was proud of Finkenauer, who she’s known since the younger politician served as a high school page in the Iowa House of Representatives. Finkener was elected to the Iowa House District 99 in 2014.
“We met for lunch early in 2017 and talked about whether or not she should run for Congress,” Jochum said. “I encouraged her to go for it. Why not?”
Having women Congress “brings a different perspective on the issues many families in our state and country face,” Jochum said. “These are pocketbook issues, such as a living wage, affordable child care and making sure we are making the investments in educating our children.”
At the state level, Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, thwarted a challenge from Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell, but incumbent State Auditor Mary Mosiman lost to Rob Sand, a Democrat, and Deidre DeJear, a Democrat, lost her bid to unseat Republican Paul Pate as Secretary of State.
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Campaign ads this cycle have been different because of all the women in the race, Winfrey said. She’s seen more incumbents attacking challenges, when usually it’s vice versa, and more negative ads for state legislative races. And then there’s all the references to controversial House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — even in campaigns for Iowa legislative seats.
“I don’t think it’s an accident the female candidates are being tied to Pelosi,” Winfrey said. “I do think there’s a gender component there.”
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