Role of motherhood forefront in election


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Staci Appel opens the car door as her six children hustle out of her black SUV.

This scene from one of Appel’s ads may seem like a normal slice of life for the average Iowa mother.
But for the Democrat running in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, it demonstrates a role that hasn’t often made its way to the forefront of elections.

Appel shows voters her role as a mother, a wife, and a hopeful congresswoman — something experts say has been one major difference between this year’s campaign and years past.

For the first time, women running for office aren’t afraid to talk about being mothers and wives.

David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy institute at Southern Illinois University, said women no longer need to hide that they occupy the role of mothers and wives.

“Years ago, women had problems getting elected because they had difficulty raising money and because voters wondered how they could perform their roles as wife and mother as well as serve,” he said. “So they downplayed that, except to use their husbands to affirm that it was OK with them if they were running.

“All that has changed.”

Both Appel and U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst have used their identities as mothers and wives in their campaigns.

Ernst has said many times she is a “mother, a soldier, and independent leader.”

Her website also notes she is a mother and grandmother and says she wants to ensure that her children and grandchildren inherit the same great nation and values everyone else inherited.

Appel is running against Republican David Young in the 3rd District and is currently behind by 2 percentage points, according to the latest Loras College Poll.

The poll sampled 1,121 likely voters from Oct. 21-24 and had a margin of error of 2.93 percentage points.

Appel and Ernst, along with Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks running in the 2nd District, have the potential of being the first woman or women Iowans send to Washington.

“We may have come to a point where we’ve turned a corner where women can use it as a positive experience and not as something they want to avoid as a barrier,” said Dianne Bystrom, the director of the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University.

Bystrom said this changed quite a bit following 2012, when women in Congress were seen as more collaborative in the media as their male counterpoints.

Yepsen said this not only signifies a change for women but also a change of society as a whole.

“It’s interesting to me that [Bruce] Braley is carrying more women than Ernst, and she’s doing better among men than he is,” he said. “It seems voters have figured out that a candidates gender isn’t as important as their character and position on issues.”

Ernst and Braley are in a tight race for a seat that will be left vacant by Sen. Tom Harkin. Harkin will retire after a 40-year career.

According to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Braley is down by 4 percentage points to Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst. Five percent remain undecided. The poll surveyed 817 likely voters with a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

“Women who get elected often do so because they campaign as someone who is in fact different than the good old boys who’ve messed up politics,” Yepsen said. “They can more easily position themselves as agents of change.

“What was once a liability is now an asset.”

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