The growing hot competition among Democratic front runners Clinton and Obama is showering more attention on Iowa women than they have had in decades, in part because polls show Obama's new found lead is being driven by women.
Iowa is 51 percent female, and women were 54 percent of caucus voters in 2004. They are also 52 percent of the people who consider themselves "likely voters." You can see why, with only a few points dividing them Obama and Clinton are both competing for this powerful group.
"Who's woman enough for the job?" maybe the most amusing competition we've enjoyed in my lifetime.
Iowa has a quite a legacy when it comes to strong women on both sides of the aisle.
At least two women should have been governor. Roxanne Conlin who ran in 1982 and Bonnie Campbell, who ran in 1994 and went on to become the first Director of the Violence Against Women Office in the Department of Justice created during the Clinton administration.
Mary Louise Smith who chaired the Republican National Committee from 1974-77 was another rising star in Iowa politics. Mary Louise was a friend and colleague who gave me an early warning about the ascendancy of a new conservative right wing in her party. And she was naturally one of the first casualties of that growing faction who finally triumphed with Ronald Reagan. He booted the socially progressive Mary Louise Smith out of leadership on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
Race is not Iowa's strong suit. The state is 93 percent Caucasian. When I lived there, I was working on both gender and race in the late 1980s the folks swore they weren't racist because they didn't even know anybody who wasn't white. Yikes.
But gender is another matter. I cut my teeth on gender politics in Iowa because there were women leaders, and the right-wing knows just where the soft spot for work is -- the role of women. So this focus on women voters is delicious.
Both Clinton and Obama are doing their job well. You can go on the web and view testimonials from women who plan to take their daughters to the caucuses to vote for Clinton. And as the founder of Take Our Daughters to Work, I can tell you there's nothing more irresistible as an incentive to fathers than seeing their daughters light up with new found aspiration and ambition.
But Oprah Winfrey also lights up a crowd. When former President Clinton tried to spark a race initiative during his presidency, he didn't get any traction. But Winfrey WAS the race initiative: she used her platform to get folks to read literature written by racially diverse authors. I never underestimate her power to sway the people.
Iowa also has a strong history with the peace movement, and the war in Iraq tops the Democratic agenda. Obama's early stance against the war gives him clout with women who are a part of that legacy. But for the last several years, our White House Project polling shows that voters would trust a women president at the same level or more than a man to deal with homeland security, foreign policy and the economy; a sea change in the last decade. They even trust a woman president more than a man on the important security predictor human rights.
Let's look at it this way: Aren't we lucky.
We have race and gender at the top of the ticket of a major party. As a feminist and child of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, I don't know if I could have imagined this scenario.
We have a black man saying he is the women's candidate, and a white woman who allies herself with a black leader, Al Sharpton, who always challenges our nation on race. Is this a race and gender bender election or what?
But stay tuned: the debate on Thursday should be a lulu. And turnout for the caucuses is key. I have lived through many an Iowa blizzard and a big snowstorm could end up trumping both race and gender in the end.