The director of the Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University says Joni Ernst’s victory in Iowa’s U.S. Senate race has gotten rid of the “black eye” Iowa has had because Iowa has been one of just four states that has never sent a woman to congress.
“But I almost think even more importantly that research has shown that once a state elects a woman as governor or to the U.S. congress, it has a multiplier effect on the number of women that run for local, county, state and even federal office,” says Dianne Bystrom, the center’s director. “That could take some time. It could take 5, 6, 7, 10 years, but it should have an effect on the number of women who run here.”
Bystrom says while neither Ernst or Democrat Bruce Braley make gender an issue in the race, Ernst subtley reached out to women in her commercials by stressing that she was a mother.
“I do think that she made some inroads at the end with probably senior women voters and also independent women voters,” Bystrom says. “I do think from exit polling we’re going to see the gender gap like we’ve seen it before.”
Since the 1980 election, women have tended to vote for the Democratic candidate, regardless of that candidate’s gender, and men tend to vote for the Republican candidate, be they male or female. Bystrom is the co-author of 15 books and she has collected 600 ads run in this election year on behalf of women candidates.
“We do know from just collecting those ads and looking at them, just anecdotally, that women in other states running for governor, senate and house were touting their experiences as a mom,” Bystrom says, “and I think we may draw a conclusion that if a significant number of these women won their election, then I think it’s good news for women that they can talk about their experience as a mother as something that’s a legitimate experience for running for political office.”
Mary Ellen Miller, executive director of 50-50 in 2020 — a group that supports women running for political office, regardless of party, says Ernst’s win means the group can cross-off one of the goals on their list — to have a woman serving as one of Iowa’s U.S. Senators by 2020.
“It brings to the forefront more clearly our efforts to achieve gender equity,” Miller says.
Miller says for the past couple of decades the number of women running for higher office has flat-lined
“Our hope is that as we continue to recruit that we can fill that future pipeline so we have more women available to run,” Miller says.
Miller’s group hopes to see two women from Iowa serving in congress by 2020. Two women were running in 2014, but all four congressional races in Iowa were won by men. 50-50 in 2020 is seeking artist designs and plans to present a special lapel pin to Ernst to mark the occasion of having a woman from Iowa serving in the U.S. Senate for the first time. The two women who are co-chairs of the 50-50 in 2020 organization — one Democrat and one Republican — both ran for the U.S. Senate in the 1990s and lost.