Clinton's gender poses challenge in Iowa
The leading Democratic presidential contender is in a tight race in Iowa, one of only two states never to have elected a woman to the governor's office or Congress.
When Roxanne Conlin stepped into a grain elevator during her 1982 campaign for Iowa governor, the farmers inside, in seed corn hats and overalls, burst into laughter when she asked for their support.Skip to next paragraph
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"They all just guffawed until I left," recalls Ms. Conlin, a former US attorney who narrowly lost the open race. "It was not an uncommon reaction. People would say to me, 'What do you think you're doing? You've got four kids, go home.' "
Twenty-five years later, Iowa remains the only state besides Mississippi never to have elected a woman to the governor's office or to Congress. A bedeviling question is how that legacy will play for Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is seeking to become the first woman president and is in a far tighter race for the Democratic presidential nomination in Iowa than she is in other early-primary states.
Senator Clinton told a Des Moines Register columnist this week that she was "shocked" to hear of Iowa's failure to elect a female governor or member of Congress and said it posed a "special burden" for her.
"I have to maybe reassure people here maybe more than I do in New Hampshire, which has had a woman governor," she said.
Anything short of victory in Iowa would puncture the aura of inevitability that surrounds her nomination nationally. Some analysts saw her remarks as an effort to lower expectations in this key early voting state. Interviews with Democratic voters this week suggest that Clinton remains a polarizing figure in Iowa, if not just because of her gender.
"I'm not going to vote for someone just because they have the same reproductive system I do," says Jennifer Lunsford, a dairy farmer who chairs the Jefferson County Democratic Party, in southeast Iowa. "I'm going to vote for someone who has the same convictions."
Ms. Lunsford, who is backing Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, said she was put off by what she sees as Clinton's divisive politics and weak explanation of her 2002 vote for the Iraq war.
At the other end of the spectrum is Stephanie Calhoun, a grandmother of 23, who says Clinton has inspired her to vote for the first time. "It's time for a woman to take charge," Ms. Calhoun, a live-in caretaker for the elderly, said as she waited for takeout Chinese food in downtown Des Moines Wednesday. "She's outgoing, and she's outspoken, and it doesn't matter what kind of shoes she wears."
Current and former female politicians in Iowa say many older residents in this rural state hold traditional views of gender roles. But they say factors with no bearing on Clinton's bid – bad timing, and lack of campaign funds or name recognition – have also played a part in the fate of women candidates for governor and Congress.