Election 2012: Vilsack Knocking Hard on Door of Iowa's 'No Girls Allowed' Club: Will Iowans Answer?

Only two states in the nation - Iowa and Mississippi - have failed to elect a woman to the U.S. Congress or the governorship. Christie Vilsack is in a tight race but lags behind her opponent Steve King, according to recent polls.

Iowans have a chance to make history Tuesday with the nation watching by electing the state's first woman to Congress. Iowa is one of only a few states that have never done this.

The candidate - Christie Vilsack, a Democrat and former First Lady of Iowa running for the 4th District seat in the U.S. House - is making a strong run but the odds are still against her. She faces five-term Republican Steve King, who holds slight leads in fundraising and the polls.

It is one of the most highly watched congressional races in the country.

"Electing Christie Vilsack to the U.S. House of Representatives would break a significant glass ceiling for Iowa and provide inspiration for other women to seek elected office in Iowa," said Diane Bystrom, the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.

Iowa is one of only four states in the nation that have never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate or House, joining Delaware, Vermont and Mississippi. Iowa and Mississippi are even more unique having never elected a woman to either chamber of Congress or the Governor's office.

Iowa has had opportunities to break the trend, with some fairly strong female candidates over the years.

Roxanne Conlin, a well-known lawyer, challenged Republican Charles Grassley for his Senate seat in 2010. The same year, Mariannette Miller-Meeks gave Iowa's second district Rep. Dave Loebsack, a Democrat, a tough race. Bonnie Campbell, a Democrat and the former Iowa Attorney General, ran unsuccessfully for the governorship in 1994.

For Iowa, this distinction seems to buck a history of progressivism in other areas.

In 2009, Iowa became just the third state to recognize same-sex marriage. On race relations, Iowa rejected slavery 26 years before the end of the Civil War decided the issue and later banned racially segregated schools 85 years before much of the rest of the nation. The first female attorney admitted to the bar in the United States came from Vilsack's own hometown.

Bystrom said it is more so the courts than the voters in Iowa that are progressive.

"Iowa's progressive record on gay marriange and race relations is based on court decisions rather than electoral politics," she said. "Our electorate, that is voters, are not as progressive as our courts."

Gender has not been an issue in the campaign, but the topic came up while Vilsack was speaking to students at Ames High School last month.

“Oftentimes it's the people who are enfranchised, the people in power, who open the door a little bit to those of us who are not,” Vilsack said, explaining to the students how Belle Babb Mansfield gained admittance into the bar in 1869.

Vilsack said she wants to break the gender barrier so that no one in the room - male or female - has to think about gender being a barrier for anything that they want to do.

“A female lens, certainly in our delegation, which has never had one, is certainly important, but it's also important to have more women in Congress,” Vilsack told students.


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