Iowa sees record number of women running for Congress in 2020 Election

With seven women on the statewide ballot, 2020 proves to break a record for women running for congressional positions, bringing unique challenges and experiences to their positions.


In this diptych, Iowa State Sen. Marinette Miller-Meeks is seen on April 9, 2019 and Democratic candidate Rita Hart are seen Sept. 26, 2020.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

Women running for office often have to overcome challenges that their male counterparts do not. Regardless, Iowa has a record number of women running for congressional positions in this election.

Rita Hart, Democratic candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, said in an interview with The Daily Iowan that the U.S. has made a lot of progress in featuring women in politics.

However, she said, women’s voices continue to be underrepresented.

“Eventually the world of politics will begin to look like the world we serve. We need to make sure we continue to make forward strides,” Hart said.

Hart, like most women, experiences moments when men talk over her while she is speaking, she said. Hart said it’s important for women to learn techniques to interrupt when they are being silenced.

Infographic by Kelsey Harrell/The Daily Iowan

“It’s really inspiring to see so many different types of people running for important roles in politics,” Hart said. “It encourages women and other minorities that there can be more representation. There are people who haven’t been represented but have very power stories and perspectives that we need.”

Hart is running in one of three congressional races this year where both candidates from major parties are women. Hart’s is facing Iowa Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa. The Miller-Meeks campaign responded to the DI but could not schedule an interview because of a busy pre-election schedule.

In the 1st Congressional District, Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer is running against Republican Ashley Hinson, an Iowa Senator from West Des Moines. Sen. Joni Ernst is defending her seat against Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.

Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne is defending her seat in the 3rd District, and the only House race where a woman is not running is the 4th District race.

Rep. Ashley Hinson looks at her computer at the Iowa State Capitol on Monday, January 13, 2020. The House convened and leaders in the Iowa House of Representatives gave opening remarks to preview their priorities for the 2020 session. (Katina Zentz)

For the first time ever, Iowa has the possibility of sending a majority-female House delegation to Congress in 2020. At the very least, Iowa will come out of the 2020 election with a 50/50 split between men and women in the House and a woman in the Senate.

Joni Ernst, the first woman elected to represent Iowa in the U.S. Senate, is defending her seat against Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. The 4th District race remains the only House race in Iowa where a woman isn’t running.

In 2014, current junior Senator from Iowa Joni Ernst, a Republican, was the first woman to be sent to Congress in Iowa, and the first female combat veteran to serve in the Senate. She has been vocal about her experience as a female veteran and a domestic abuse survivor.

As reported by The Des Moines Register, Ernst had described her marriage as an extremely painful journey. Her now ex-husband belittled her in her achievements as a Senator.

“My personal life is now out for everyone to see, so I will always continue to work with survivors and offer them the best resources I can,” Ernst said in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer talks with reporters before the annual 4th of July parade in Independence, Iowa. This is the 159th 4th of July parade in Independence.

In a statement sent to The Daily Iowan, Ernst said that as a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, she continues to work towards advocating for women and abuse survivors.

“I tell my daughter, women can serve our country in the military, women can serve our state in the U.S. Senate, women can be in a room full of men and make our voices heard above all of the partisan fighting,” Ernst said.

Since Ernst’s win in 2014, women have begun to step up in areas across the state and the nation.

Women are running for more political positions nationally. In 2018, 476 women filed to run for U.S. house seats while today, there are 490 women running, 221 of which are Republican women, twice as many as were running in 2018.

Hinson press secretary, Annie Topp, said it is great to see so many women stepping up to run for office this year. She said that Hinson is running for Congress because she is the right person for the job regardless of her gender.

“Ashley is a wife, mom, former news anchor, and current state legislator. These experiences have given her the perspective she needs in order to effectively represent Iowans in the 1st District in Congress,” Topp said.

On a PBS special earlier this year, Hinson said that she is grateful to have a supportive environment that allows her to work in this field.

“When I hear that there are so few conservative women, I think, absolutely, that’s inspiring. To me it’s a reason that I should step up and run.” Hinson said.

Theresa Greenfield, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, said in an email that her own personal experiences make her better prepared to represent people from different backgrounds. Working her way through school, overcoming personal tragedy, and rising up to lead a small business has shown her that women have to work even harder to reach the same level of success as men.

Infographic by Kelsey Harrell/The Daily Iowan

Greenfield said that policies that target the gender-wage gap need to be focused on.

After losing her husband in a work accident, Greenfield said, she was forced to raise her son as a widowed mother. This struggle inspired her to go into politics so that she could protect Social Security benefits, she said.

Greenfield said it was disappointing to see so few women in politics as she grew up, but was encouraged by her twin sister, Maria — who served five years in an elected position — to run for office herself.

“I know, from my personal experience, that our working families can’t thrive unless women are getting a fair shot. That means we need to elect more women, do more to encourage women to step up and run for office, and listen to women’s voices,” Greenfield said. “We also need to support policies that close the gender wage gap and promote economic equality. Women across Iowa are going to get results for Iowa’s families by working hard and competing for every vote in every county and precinct.”

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