As some Clinton supporters at MyDD never tire of reminding me, Iowa and Mississippi are the only two states that have never elected a woman governor, senator or Congressional representative.
Over at Iowa Independent, Douglas Burns wrote a feature on Ann Selzer, pollster for the Des Moines Register. She commented:
“I’m rather stymied by Iowa’s failure to elect a woman,” Selzer said. She chalks it up to lack of strong candidates of that gender so far rather than any deep-seeded sexism among Iowa natives.
Democrats are clearly not to blame for this problem. We have nominated two women for governor and many women for Congress. We’ve also nominated women to many statewide offices, and some of those, like Bonnie Campbell and Patty Judge, have been elected.
I think one issue is that we’ve got a lot of long-serving incumbents here, and rarely have we had open seats. Sheila McGuire ran for an open Congressional seat in 1994, but that was in the most Republican district in Iowa. Every other woman I can think of who has run for Congress in Iowa has had to face off against an incumbent. As we know, more than 90 percent of incumbents are reelected to Congress.
Almost every ten years, Iowa loses a Congressional district, which means that even if an incumbent retires, there may not be an open seat available.
Roxanne Conlin ran for governor when the seat was open in 1982, but perhaps there was some backlash against the Equal Rights Amendment at that time. She also was not able to beat back the “Taxanne” message coming from the right-wing.
I believe that many women elected from other states benefit from belonging to a political dynasty. Some states have elected exactly one woman to Congress, and that woman happens to be the widow, daughter or grand-daughter of a long-serving incumbent. For instance, I think we can all agree that Stephanie Herseth would not have won an election in South Dakota without the Herseth family name. We haven’t had any women in that situation in Iowa.
About five years ago I attended a political science conference and heard Stephen Ansolabahere speak. He has published great work on Americans’ voting behavior.
I asked him about Iowa’s reluctance to elect women to high office. One point he made, which surprised me, is that of the 50 states, Iowa has the largest percentage of the population living in small towns and rural areas.
Nebraska, by contrast, is one of the most “urban” states, with a very large percentage of the population living in the Omaha or Lincoln metro areas and a much smaller percentage living in the smaller towns.
Perhaps the “political culture” of Iowa’s smaller towns creates a less friendly environment for women candidates. Most of the women in the Iowa legislature come from urban or suburban districts.
I think that the lack of opportunity for women to run for open seats is a bigger issue, though.
What do you think?
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that women candidates may have an even tougher time defeating incumbents, but that isn’t the case just in Iowa. Someone, and I’m sorry I can’t remember who, studied 20 “serious Democratic challenges” to Republican-held seats in the U.S. House in 2006. A serious challenger was defined as someone who had raised at least $1 million by the end of June 2006. Of those 20 challengers, 13 were men and 7 were women.
On election day 2006, 12 of the 13 men on that list defeated the Republican incumbent, while 6 of the 7 women lost (the exception was Kirsten Gillibrand in New York).
In each case, you can construct a narrative for why the woman lost that has nothing to do with gender. However, looking at the totality of the outcomes in 2006, I think we can posit that the U.S. electorate is slightly more resistant to women challengers to Congressional incumbents.
SECOND UPDATE: I found this piece by Chris Bowers. He also wondered why Democratic women did so poorly in the 2006 elections. He noted that in the 30 Republican-held districts that were top targets for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY’s list, 21 of the Democratic candidates were men, and 9 were women. (Some of those were open seats, not challenges to incumbents.)
In those races, 20 of the 21 men won, while 8 of the 9 women lost. Again, it appears that American voters are more resistant to electing women to Congress, which could make the difference in a close race.