Congressional opponents in 2nd District both draw on past journalism experience

From briefs to press releases, the race for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional district is close between the two former journalists. Ashley Hinson and Liz Mathis spent years as news anchors and now use the skills they learned while competing for the congressional seat.


Gabby Drees and Matt Sindt

Democratic candidate Liz Mathis and U.S. Rep Ashley Hinson speaking at various political events on Sept. 3 and Aug. 28 respectively.

Lauren White, Politics Reporter

Arnold Schwarzenegger and former presidents Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan are just a few who went from the screen to political office. Now, in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District, both candidates vying for the House seat have backgrounds as television news anchors — and both use this to their advantage.

Current Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, spent 10 years as a news anchor in Cedar Rapids, and her competitor, Iowa Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, was an anchor for nearly 30 years in the Waterloo and Cedar Rapids areas. Timothy Hagle, a University of Iowa political science associate professor, said being notable figures through their constituents’ television screens means they are already more trustworthy to voters.

“They know how to present themselves in a good way in terms of lighting or styling or whatever it happens to be,” Hagle said.

Hagle said voters appreciate people with nontraditional political careers because different sectors of the workforce are represented in elected positions.

In February, the Public Policy Polling survey revealed the race was neck and neck, with Hinson at 43 percent of the vote and Mathis at 42 percent. Another advantage Hinson and Mathis’ journalism backgrounds present is their understanding of how news works, Hagle said.

“With Mathis and Hinson, because they worked in news, they have a better sense of what is newsworthy. They know the kinds of things that might be worth an editor or reporter’s time to come out and do a story,” Hagle said.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Mathis wrote being a journalist gave her name recognition in her area, which she said is important in a challenger. She also wrote the job gave her insights into what problems Congress needs to fix for Iowans.

Timeline by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

“From the farm crisis and national disasters to coverage of international incidents and interviewing presidential candidates from Reagan to Obama eras, I gained knowledge across a broad range of issues as well as expanded research and analytical skills important for thorough evaluation of all provisions of a bill,” Mathis wrote.

Mathis wrote news broadcasting made her an effective communicator. She added she can use sources to assist her with connecting Iowans to resources.

“Having great sources as a journalist helps you land great stories,” Mathis wrote. “But you need to be a great communicator to tell the story.”

On Hinson’s campaign website, she touts her journalism career and says she went into politics to help with issues she covered for years.
During her campaign announcement for Congress in 2017, Hinson used her background as a reporter as a part of her biography — saying she’s a “recovering journalist.

Hagle said this reference to being a “recovering journalist” is used to downplay how some voters view the media, referring to a lack of trust in publications — particularly among Republican voters. According to polling by FiveThirtyEight, Republican trust in media has declined since 1997, hitting its lowest point during the Trump Presidency.

In an email to the DI, Hinson said her news background gave her the opportunity to meet Iowans across the state and really understand the issues they were having. In turn, this helped her throughout her campaign efforts. She also said she uses her journalism background to exercise congressional oversight.

Timeline by Jami Martin-Trainor/The Daily Iowan

“Before hearings with Biden Administration officials, I do my research, figure out what I need to ask, and execute – just like I would for an interview,” Hinson wrote.

When asked in a previous interview with the DI about her opinion on the Iowa law strengthening free speech on college campuses, Hinson supported the law because of her background in journalism.

“I think, first and foremost, it comes down to protecting the First Amendment. I’m a former journalist,” Hinson said. “I care about people being able to express how they feel on any issue. And we don’t want to see speech suppressed, especially on college campuses where they are designed to be a beacon of that conversation and a beacon of thought if you can have dialogue, much like we have here in the halls of Congress.”

RELATED: 1st District candidates clash on abortion, infrastructure in debate

Hinson wrote she holds a press call every week with journalists because she believes the people she represents deserve transparency. Last fall, Cedar Rapids voters overwhelmingly elected Tiffany O’Donnell, another political figure who previously worked as a news anchor, as mayor in a race against incumbent Brad Hart and local activist Amara Andrews.

O’Donnell said honesty is extremely important as a public official, and updating your constituents on plans and policies in the media is crucial.

“As a journalist, the second I sense someone is trying to hide something for me, I have the instinct to ask more questions. I’m a firm believer, certainly in public office, of transparency, and it’s really just a part of my DNA, coming from a journalism background,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said the starkest difference between a career in the media and a political career is having to drop her objectivity. As an anchor, she said she tried to forge a positive relationship with all her viewers. But as mayor, she must expose how she feels about certain issues.

“It can be difficult at first to know that you might have disappointed a few people,” O’Donnell said. “But at the end of the day, none of us run for office because we think everything’s running perfectly. We run because we believe that we can effect positive change, and that means that  not everyone’s going to like you.”

Vice President of the University Democrats at Iowa Ryan Westhoff said he’s noticed Hinson and Mathis using their background as journalists to connect to voters. While they do not have the traditional background of law or policy making in the past, their approach is still effective because of name recognition.

“People recognize them from watching their nightly news. I think there is that aspect of it, to where they are recognized as people that have been around through presenting political issues to them in the past, and that’s how they connect in a local way,” Westhoff said.

While a candidate’s background can be important, Westhoff said, it is not the first thing he looks for in an elected official. Instead, he looks at policies and how they would affect his community. The UI does not sit in Iowa’s newly drawn 2nd Congressional District, but it’s still important for students in Iowa City to be familiar with the race, Westhoff said.

With some students going back to their home counties in that district and it being a neighboring district, he said, it’s crucial that students stay updated.

“It’s a relatively close seat in a really important House election when it comes to protecting a lot of priorities and a lot of right that people find important that are potentially in jeopardy this year,” Westhoff said.