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Record number of women running for U.S. House, Senate

In the Quad Cities area, three congressional races and the Iowa Senate race feature women as both major party nominees
Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 10:55 PM CDT
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QUAD CITIES (KWQC) - Across the country, women are running for office at historic rates, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

It’s being reflected here in the Quad Cities.

The races for Iowa’s 1st and 2nd Congressional District, Illinois' 17th District, and the Iowa State Senate all feature women as both the Republican and Democratic nominees.

Members of both sides say it has never been like this.

“Having run before when there were not very many women running, I just think it’s outstanding and I really do think that it’s on the footsteps of the shoulders of those who have taken on this challenge before and to have run when very few women were running,” Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the Republican candidate for Iowa’s 2nd District, said.

Abby Finkenauer, the Democratic incumbent for Iowa’s 1st District, agreed.

“I remember getting elected to the statehouse back in 2014 and there wasn’t very many of us," Finkenauer said. “I remember growing up and I had Pam Jochum who is the state senator now in Dubuque. She was somebody I had gotten to know when I was in high school and again there were very few women that represented me or people that were on the ticket and now to see that change over the years is still pretty extraordinary.”

Finkenauer, elected in 2018, is the first woman to represent the district.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics, 20 women are major party candidates running for senate positions, only three shy of the record set in 2018. A record 298 women are major nominees for the house, which is up from a record 234 women that ran just two years prior.

Esther Joy King, a Republican, is a first-time nominee. She said it helps to have support so close by.

“Mariannette (Miller-Meeks) and I will text encouragement ‘hey girl, you got this,'” King said. “We are on zoom calls together on a regular basis, collaborating and encouraging each other and it is fun, it is really fun to be part of the largest class of republican women who have ever run like we are breaking records together."

While Republican women have shattered the number of nominees running for the house jumping from a record 53 set in 2004 to a new record of 94 in 2020, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Democratic women had their previous record set at 182 in 2018, and now have 204 women as nominees this year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Iowa’s second district has never had a woman represent the district.

This year, Democratic nominee Rita Hart and Republican nominee Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks are looking to become the first woman to represent the district.

Hart explains how women running is a game-changer.

“Having women’s voices at the table makes a difference,” Hart said. “Women face different kinds of challenges than men do, but it all comes down to people that are there for the right reasons who are making sure that they understand the needs of the district.”

King’s opponent, incumbent Cheri Bustos, a Democrat, is the first-ever woman to represent the Illinois 17th district. Bustos was elected in 2012.

Bustos addressed the sexism she and other female candidates face when running for office.

“Especially with social media, you have people who will comment, especially about women," Bustos said. “Your hair, your makeup, your clothing, your skirt is too long, your skirt is too short, I can’t even tell you how many comments we get about however my hair looks at any given time, so all of that is out there.”

“I think we all recognize that sexism still exists,” Hart said

Perhaps none know this better than Maggie Tinsman, former Iowa State Senator who started a bi-partisan group 50/50 in 2020, a group that looks to have women make up 50% of governing bodies.

“Women are harder on themselves than men," Tinsman said. “I’ve said that a couple of times that a man might wake up in the morning and look in the mirror as he’s shaving and say ‘I think I might be governor’, a woman would never think that, I mean she would have to be asked by a million people first."

Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa’s first woman senator, agreed with Tinsman.

“Overall women typically have to be asked three times before they will consider running for office," the Republican senator said. “That’s a gap we have to close, men just decide to do it on their own, I think we should encourage all women if you are interested in representing your communities, (to) step up and do it. Don’t wait for folks to ask you, I think that’s true no matter whether you’re Republican, Democratic, Independent, whatever."

Ernst’s opponent, Theresa Greenfield, talked about her inspiration to get into the race.

“I think women have decided that their voices are important and they need to be at the table and if we’re going to address so many issues - healthcare, childcare, education - then we need to be at the table and running," Greenfield said. “So it is really fun and so exciting.”

Candidates also acknowledged the need for more women of color in Congress.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimate, women of color make up approximately 21% of the population. They only make up roughly 9% of the current members of congress.

The main way to address this, according to candidates, is speaking up and taking notice.

“Just encouraging more people in general, engage in the political system, know that you are worthy of running for office, your voice does matter, said Ashley Hinson, the Republican nominee for Iowa’s 1st District. “And no matter who you are, you deserve a chance to step up and make sure that that voice is heard.”

Hart added, “you have to take a look around the table and see who’s missing, and invite them up to the table."

Tinsman agreed.

“I think that needs to be emphasized now and women, Black women, and Latina women need to be asked and maybe some of the white people should ask them," said Tinsman.

Finkenauer said the future is bright, especially for young women.

“This is just, it’s just the beginning where young women too who are seeing this realize that they can do this as well," Finkenauer said.

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