Iowa and Mississippi remain the two states in the country which have never elected a woman to Congress. In this month’s election, two women were seeking to break through that so-called "glass ceiling" but both Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Ottumwa and Democrat Becky Greenwald of Perry lost to incumbents who are men.
University of Iowa political science professor Tracy Osborn doesn’t see "deep-seeded sexism" in the state. "We have other things in Iowa, too, that speak to the fact that sexism doesn’t exist," Osborn says. "…We do have a pretty good amount of women in our legislature compared to a lot of other places and Iowa is only one of five states that requires some sort of parity in their state bureaucracy, so that puts them at the very top, gender-wise, from that perspective."
In the past three decades, five women from the two major political parties have run for Congress unsuccessfully, but Osborn says there’s no single link in those races. "I mean, there are definitely reasons that are central to Iowa politics that there hasn’t been a woman elected," Osborn says, "but the reason that they’re down at the bottom with Mississippi and kind of unusual is purely historical fluke, I think."
Former Iowa Secretary of State Elaine Baxter of Burlington twice ran for Congress in the 1990s, losing both times to Congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot. Baxter believes a woman can win higher office in Iowa, under the right set of circumstances.
"I think when you look at: Can a woman win in Iowa? I think (an) open seat is best (when you’re not running against an incumbent) and constituencies that are probably more urban, younger," Baxter says. "Those kinds of voters are more likely to elect a woman."
Becky Greenwald, the 2008 Democratic candidate in Iowa’s fourth district, isn’t ruling out a rematch against Republican Congressman Tom Latham of Ames in 2010. "I do believe that it is a historical fluke and that we will elect a woman one of these days. It needs to be the right person at the right time," Greenwald says. "Before I decide if I try it again, I need to do a gap analysis and just see where we were apart and see where we might be able to overcome."
The three women made their comments during a joint appearance on Iowa Public Radio.