Prospects for electing more women to the Iowa legislature

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, let’s revisit the field of women candidates in the 100 Iowa House districts and 25 Iowa Senate districts that are up for grabs this year. Since Bleeding Heartland last surveyed the scene, a few more women candidates have emerged, while others are no longer in the running.

Following the 2014 election, the number of women in the Iowa House rose from 25 to 27 (six Republicans and 21 Democrats). The number of women in the Iowa Senate dropped from ten to seven (one Republican and six Democrats) because men replaced three retiring female Republican senators.

Iowa’s general assembly has fewer women as a percentage of lawmakers than do 29 other state legislatures. Despite efforts by the bipartisan group 50/50 in 2020 to promote political equity in Iowa and to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of government, next year’s legislature may have even fewer female state representatives and senators.

Speaking of Women’s Equality Day, did you know Iowa women came close to gaining the right to vote during the 1870s, and again in 1916? Neither did I before I researched this Throwback Thursday post last year.

This page on the Secretary of State’s website lists all the candidates who will appear on Iowa ballots. All results from the June primary can be found here. Democrats and Republicans have nominated new candidates in some state legislative districts since the primary for various reasons.


Women incumbents

Of the 27 female state representatives who served in 2015 and 2016, eleven are now unopposed for re-election:

Megan Hess Jones (R, House district 2)
Linda Upmeyer (R, House district 54)
Jo Oldson (D, House district 41); she survived a strong primary challenge
Lisa Heddens (D, House district 46)
Timi Brown-Powers (D, House district 61)
Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D, House district 69)
Mary Gaskill (D, House district 81); she also defeated a primary challenger
Vicki Lensing (D, House district 85)
Mary Mascher (D, House district 86)
Cindy Winckler (D, House district 90)
Abby Finkenauer (D, House district 99)

Two women who are retiring will be replaced by men:

Deborah Berry (D, House district 62); Democrat Ras Smith is virtually guaranteed to defeat Republican Todd Obadal and independent John Patterson.
Linda Miller (R, House district 94); Republican Gary Mohr is the only candidate on the ballot here.

Two women who are retiring may be replaced by women:

Nancy Dunkel (D, House district 57); either Democrat Tom Stecher or Republican Shannon Lundgren could win this swing district
Sally Stutsman (House district 77); Democrat Amy Nielsen will be favored to beat Republican Royce Phillips

Most of the other women in the lower chamber will win their re-election bids because of the political balance in their districts. However, challengers could win some of those seats, especially if the presidential vote in Iowa shifts toward Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump near the end. Our state currently looks highly competitive. Click here for the latest voter registration totals in all Iowa House districts.

Mary Ann Hanusa (R, House district 16)
Sandy Salmon (R, House district 63)
Dawn Pettengill (R, House district 75)
Helen Miller (D, House district 9)
Ruth Ann Gaines (D, House district 32)
Marti Anderson (D, House district 36)
Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D, House district 45)
Sharon Steckman (D, House district 53)
Patti Ruff (D, House district 56)
Liz Bennett (D, House district 65)
Phyllis Thede (D, House district 93)
Mary Wolfe (D, House district 98)

Women challenging House incumbents

Five Republican women are running against Democratic incumbents:

Sondra Childs-Smith (House district 45)
Stacie Stokes (House district 52)
Barbara Hovland (House district 53)
Kristi Hager (House district 56)
Jeannine Eldrenkamp (House district 98)

All of the above will be underdogs in their races. A win for Stokes against Todd Prichard would increase the number of women serving in the house. All of the others are challenging women.

Fifteen Democratic women are running against Republican incumbents:

Nancy Huisinga (House district 8)
Sara Huddleston (House district 11)
Jan Creasman (House district 17)
Andrea Phillips (House district 37)
Heather Matson (House district 38)
Maridith Morris (House district 39)
Claire Celsi (House district 42)
Jennifer Konfrst (House district 43)
Deb Duncan (House district 47)
Sherrie Taha (House district 48)
Mickie Franklin (House district 49)
Teresa Meyer (House district 63)
Molly Donahue (House district 68)
Paula Denison (House district 75)
Carrie Duncan (House district 84)

Huisinga, Huddleston, Creasman, Phillips, Matson, Morris, Celsi, Konfrst, Taha, Franklin, Donahue, and both Duncans are all running against men. A win for any of them would increase the total number of women serving in the lower chamber.

Meyer and Denison are running against Sandy Salmon and Dawn Pettengill, respectively, so a win for either candidate would not change the number of women in the chamber.

Some of the Democratic challengers face long odds, but anything can happen, especially if Trump drags down the whole Republican ticket. Matson, Konfrst, Celsi, Phillips, Morris, and Donahue are all running in suburban areas, where polls have suggested Trump runs particularly poorly among women. Huddleston is a Latina in a district with more Latino voters than most Iowa House seats.

One Libertarian woman filed to run for the legislature this month: Jocelyn Fry (House district 35). Ako Abdul-Samad has no GOP challenger here because of the overwhelming Democratic voter registration advantage.

Women running in open House seats

Women are seeking four House seats where men are retiring. A win for any would increase total representation for women in the lower chamber.

Perla Alarcon-Flory (D, House district 6)
Jane Bloomingdale (R, House district 51), likely to be a targeted seat for both parties
Jessica Kean (D, House district 58), also a highly competitive race
Ashley Hinson (R, House district 67)

One women is running for a House seat where a woman is retiring:

Amy Nielsen (D, House district 77)


Women incumbents

Two of the seven female state senators are not up for re-election this year, so are guaranteed to serve in 2017 and 2018:

Amanda Ragan (Senate district 27)
Rita Hart (Senate district 49)

The other five women in the upper chamber are all seeking another term.

Amy Sinclair (R, Senate district 14)
Janet Petersen (D, Senate district 18)
Mary Jo Wilhelm (D, Senate district 26)
Liz Mathis (D, Senate district 34)
Pam Jochum (D, Senate district 50)

No Democrat filed to run against Sinclair. Ruth Smith filed to run here as an independent. Sinclair has the edge, thanks to a GOP voter registration advantage of about 3,500 in a district Mitt Romney carried in 2012.

Petersen is unopposed.

Both parties and some interest groups will target Wilhelm’s re-election bid against Waylon Brown. President Barack Obama won more than 55 percent of the vote here in 2012. Neither party has a significant voter registration advantage.

Republicans seem prepared to invest in Senate district 34, which looks competitive on paper, but it’s not one of their top pickup opportunities. Mathis has strong crossover appeal, and Trump will be a burden at the top of the ticket in the suburbs of Cedar Rapids. I expect Clinton to improve on the 51.81 percent share of the vote that went to Obama here in 2012.

Jochum benefits from an overwhelming Democratic registration advantage in a district where Obama won nearly 61 percent of the vote in 2012.

Women challenging Senate incumbents

Five women are running against sitting state senators:

Susan Bangert (D, Senate district 4)
Miyoko Hikiji (D, Senate district 20)
Jan Heikes (D, Senate district 26)
Bonnie Sadler (R, Senate district 30)
Rene Gadelha (R, Senate district 34)

The Democrats are all running against men, so a win for any of them would increase female representation in the upper chamber. The campaign between Heikes and State Senator Mike Breitbach will be the most closely watched, for reasons Bleeding Heartland discussed in yesterday’s post about that race. Previous posts previewed the races in Senate district 4 and Senate district 20.

As mentioned above, I see Mathis as highly likely to defeat Gadelha.

Sadler is running against State Senator Jeff Danielson, who was among the top targets for Republicans four years ago. Both parties will probably spend serious money here, since it’s a balanced district on paper. But I consider Sadler an underdog for several reasons: Danielson’s a three-term incumbent; Obama won more than 53 percent of the vote here; and the district encompassing the University of Northern Iowa has a relatively well-educated population. Trump at the top of the ticket won’t be an asset for Sadler.

No women are still running for open Senate seats this year. Only one incumbent opted to retire rather than run for re-election, and Pam Dearden Conner lost a hard-fought Democratic primary to Nate Boulton in Senate district 16.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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