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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Women Not Winning In Iowa: Part 1

Women Not Winning In Iowa: Part 1

David Yepsen follows up today on yesterday’s story noting the lack of success for high profile female candidates in Iowa. The focus is narrow – Roxanne Conlin’s 1982 race – and he lays blame for the loss squarely on the candidate.

I didn’t make it to Iowa until 8 years later so I can’t make that call. But that got me to thinking about some of the other high-profile races I’ve observed and been involved in. I think I’ve got enough material to make this last a few posts so stay tuned.

1992 was the much-ballyhooed “year of the woman” and saw a great leap forward in female congressional membership: Carol Moseley Braun, Patty Murray, Blanche (Lambert) Lincoln, and the California duo of Feinstein and Boxer among others. But not in Iowa.

Elaine Baxter was always a good interview in my journalist days and the best of the three Secretaries of State I’ve observed. I remember that in June 1992, at the height of the House check-kiting scandal, Jim Ross Lightfoot was ranked as the number one most vulnerable congressional incumbent. Lightfoot slimed her at the whispering, push-poll level, and in a bizarre district that covered five media markets in four states, that was effective.

God bless Jean Lloyd-Jones for taking on Chuck Grassley in `92. That was a long shot from the word go, and it got worse when her announcement was stepped on by a state Senate ethics scandal. She was not involved, but she was chairing the Senate ethics committee and the good ole boys left her holding the hot potato. So all anyone heard in the news was “ethics scandal… Jean Lloyd-Jones.” As a result she had a close call in the primary from a candidate who could charitably be described as a wacko.

The low point was a debate with six minor party candidates – an attempt to nail Grassley for refusing to debate that instead wound up reducing Jean to their level. Grassley eventually debated. The night before the election. I was a party staffer that year and Jean's staffer said, "She did great. And nobody saw it."

Turnout was high that year, but it seems that despite the Clinton win in Iowa this didn’t help Democrats. Perot voters apparently voted Republican down the rest of the ballot. The evangelicals were also out in full force; that was the same year Iowa made its second attempt to pass an actual ERA. It lost narrowly, hampered by an ineffective campaign. The tactic of holding signs at polling places alienated more voters that it encouraged, and reminded opponents to vote no more effectively than it got supporters to vote yes. And it drew critical volunteers away from Democratic GOTV efforts. (MoveOn made the same mistake in 2004.)

Next up: Bonnie Campbell and the Nightmare of Ninety-Four.

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