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Iowa's Congressional Delegation To Be Majority Female For First Time In State History

Charlie Neibergall / AP
Come January, Iowa's congressional delegation is slated to be majority female for the first time in state history.

Iowa's congressional delegation is slated to become majority female for the first time in state history. The change comes just six years after U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst became the first woman from Iowa to go to Congress.

The results from Tuesday night’s election are still preliminary and won’t be official until after county officials canvass the votes next week. But barring something unforeseen, four out of Iowa’s six members of Congress will be women come January.

Ernst has been re-elected to her second term in the Senate, defeating Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.

Meanwhile in the House, Republican State Rep. Ashley Hinson has won the race for Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, unseating Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer.

Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne has won re-election in the 3rd Congressional District, beating her predecessor, former Republican Rep. David Young.

Meanwhile the Associated Press has not yet declared a winner in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, where the race has come down to a razor-thin margin. But the winner will almost certainly be one of the major parties’ nominees: Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks or Democratic former state Sen. Rita Hart.

Karen Kedrowski, director the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, calls this shift in Iowa’s congressional delegation a “sea change."

“I think that this is really indicating that having women running for high level office has become part of normal business in Iowa, that it’s no longer unusual or something that is remarked upon a lot,” Kedrowski said.

Research has shown that women are much less likely than men to self-nominate for political office and are more likely than men to underestimate their own qualifications. Due to the persistence of the gender wage gap, women may not have personal wealth to devote to a campaign, or may have less time to spare from their work or personal responsibilities.

But Kedrowski points to candidate recruitment programs in Iowa and across the county as helping to encourage women to overcome these barriers to run for office.

“Simply having these kinds of candidate training programs in place, it creates a culture that having women running for office is a great idea, that they are viable candidates,” she said. “It offers us a platform to debunk some of the common myths about not being able to raise money or that voters aren’t going to be supportive.”

Republican women running for Congress in particular made gains during Tuesday’s election in Iowa and across the country, though they are still far outnumbered by Democratic women in Congress. Currently, there are just 13 Republican women serving in the U.S. House and 9 Republican women in the U.S. Senate.

Kedrowski says Republican women often face more psychological and cultural barriers to running for office because of beliefs more common among conservatives that women should be deferential to men.

That makes these recent gains even more important for the Republican caucus, she says.

“[Republican women in Congress] were sort of a disappearing group, that as women were increasing in the House of Representatives, they were becoming way overwhelmingly Democratic. And so relatively speaking, the voices of Republican women were missing from the Republican caucus, but also from the groups of women members who would work together across the aisle,” she said. “And theirs is an important perspective to have.”