Iowa Women Testing Congress Ceiling

“Iowa has never elected a woman to Congress.”

Those words introduce a television advertisement for Swati Dandekar, a former Democratic state senator who’s hoping to end that drought. She’s not the only one.

“We need a good candidate, and I think I’m that best candidate, who just happens to be a woman from Iowa,” Dandekar says in the spot, which began airing yesterday in the Cedar Rapids area, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, an ad tracker.

Dandekar, who is Indian-American, is one of three women in the June 3 Democratic primary in Iowa’s 1st District, a Democratic-leaning area that also includes Dubuque and Waterloo.

An ad for Monica Vernon, a Cedar Rapids councilwoman, shows her describing herself as a “working mom” running on a platform that includes gender pay-equity and raising the minimum wage. Another ad is narrated by one of Vernon’s daughters.

Vernon and Dandekar have reported raising the most money in the Democratic field, which also includes state Rep. Anesa Kajtazovic, a Bosnian-American who was first elected to the legislature in 2010 at age 24.

Iowa is the most populous of the four states that have never sent a woman to either the House or the Senate, according to data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The others are Delaware, Mississippi and Vermont.

The three Democratic women in Iowa’s 1st are vying with state Rep. Pat Murphy and David O’Brien, a lawyer and political activist, for the seat of Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who’s running for the Senate seat of retiring Democrat Tom Harkin. Murphy, a former state House Speaker, is backed by many labor unions.


In Iowa’s politically competitive 3rd District in and around Des Moines, former state Sen. Staci Appel is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Six Republican men are running. Republican Rep. Tom Latham is retiring.

Republicans are also competing to break Iowa’s glass ceiling.

The leading Republican for the Senate seat is the race’s only woman, state Sen. Joni Ernst, who’s won support from a broad range of Republicans and small-government groups that includes Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Sarah Palin, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Senate Conservatives Fund.

“Conservative Joni Ernst. Mom. Farm girl. A lieutenant colonel who carries more than just lipstick in her purse,” a narrator says in one of Ernst’s ads as the candidate is shown loading a gun and shooting it at a firing range.

Ernst’s top rival probably is Mark Jacobs, a former Goldman Sachs managing director who’s been responsible for most of his campaign’s funding. A candidate must win at least 35 percent of the vote to avoid a nominating convention.

In the 2nd District, which includes Iowa City and Davenport and rivals the 1st as Iowa’s most Democratic district, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks is making a third attempt to unseat Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack after taking 39 percent of the vote in 2008 and 46 percent in 2010. Two Republican men are also seeking the nomination.

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