In Iowa’s U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Joni Ernst and Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield frequently cite grim events in their past as examples of their grit.
Greenfield speaks about being widowed at the age of 24.
“After my first husband died and I got that first job, it was for $8 an hour and I worked my fingers to the bond to build my career and raise my boys,” Greenfield said on Iowa PBS.
Ernst first spoke publicly in 2018 about being abused by her ex-husband and being raped by a college boyfriend and she’s referred to that in all three televised debates.
“I am fighting for survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence because I’ve been there myself,” Ernst said on Iowa PBS.
Both candidates say being open about these personal experiences leads to important conversations with voters. Greenfield spoke with Radio Iowa recently in Buffalo Center, the town she was living in when she got the news her husband had died at work.
“I know that when we tell our stories and when we take time to listen to stories it’s how we learn from people about what their priorities are,” Greenfield said.
Ernst told Radio Iowa she sees a bit of herself in some of the women who talk to her about their own abuse.
“Because I was exactly like this, when they come up and say something to me, it’s quite obvious that they haven’t shared that experience with anyone else,” Ernst said.
Iowa State University journalism professor Kelly Winfrey, the research coordinator at ISU’s Center for Women in Politics, said it’s notable Ernst and Greenfield are talking openly about being fragile, yet resilient.
“They’re showing their humanity and their experience as women in ways that we haven’t always seen women candidates do, because that was risky,” Winfrey told Radio Iowa.
However, it may be less risky in this race, Winfrey said, because both candidates are women.