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Iowans In Record Number Get "Ready to Run"

Amy Mayer/IPR
A record number of participants signed up for Iowa State's Ready to Run program to prepare Iowans to run for office.

For 10 years a program from Iowa State University has helped prepare first-time candidates to run for political office. It’s held during odd years and this year’s program has attracted a record number of participants.

Three day-long programs in Ames are offering tips and tools for running a campaign and getting elected, from fundraising and campaign finance rules to communication strategies and social media.

Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, credits the 2016 election cycle with this year’s increased interest.

“On one side, it affected women that were inspired to run with the idea…I think their expectation was that we were going to have a woman president,” Bystrom says. “And when we didn’t, you know, we’ve had some conversations where they say things like ‘I needed to make sure that I was representing the interests of women in my community.’”

But she is quick to point out that the program doesn’t only attract Democrats. Republicans have also responded to the energy around the notion of women stepping into the political arena.

“We’re not going to increase the overall number of women in politics if we can’t do more increasing on the side of the Republicans,” Bystrom says.

Ready to Run organizers say this year for the first day alone, 140 people registered. Previously, the highest attendance was about 70 people. Jodi Clemens of Springdale, a community near West Branch, is running as a Democrat for State House and says this particular moment moved her to action.

Credit Amy Mayer/IPR
Jodi Clemens of Springdale is running for the Iowa House.

“Right now, I’m so inspired by the enthusiasm of people joining the political process for the first time,” she says.

Clemens was a precinct caucus chair during the 2016 caucuses, but this is her first go at getting elected. A financial advisor, she says she’s used to talking about money which, like politics, can make people uncomfortable. So they avoid the subject.

“People don’t talk about money and then they often make bad decisions because of it,” Clemens says. “People don’t talk about politics and then they often make bad decisions because of it.”

Clemens wants to help voters avoid casting a ballot against what says she could be their own self-interest. That can happen, she says, when voters aren’t involved and don’t fully see the repercussions of a particular vote. Also, she’d like to bring some civility back into the campaign process. Here at the workshop, she’s soaking in every morsel on offer.

“I am just immersing myself in as much information as I can gather as we, literally, form our campaign at our kitchen table right now, my husband and I,” she says.

For Brenda Case, the idea of running for Ottumwa city council pre-dates the 2016 election results. She took steps toward being a candidate last year, but was thwarted when a primary snuck up on her.

“On the day I should have turned in my nominating papers, I was meeting with my committee about logos and I missed the deadline,” she says. “So it was just…not knowing.”

Case says even though she has volunteered for the city and worked with government officials and politicians, she didn’t know how to launch a campaign. Among the lessons she’s taking from Ready to Run is how to ask for money.

Credit Amy Mayer/IPR
Brenda Case is hoping to be "Ready to Run" for Ottumwa City Council.

“It’s a terrifying thing to me, so it was a stumbling block,” she says. “And I think the biggest part of both this session, and the previous two, is confidence builders.”

Most, but not all, of those attending this workshop were women. ISU’s Bystrom says more women of color attended than ever before. Last fall, several 2015 Ready to Run participants made a bid for office and Bystrom says overall female candidates had a higher success rate than men.

“So getting them to run is really the first step.”

But Bystrom points out that in all races the incumbent is favored, regardless of gender. So the program encourages first-time candidates to seek uncontested seats whenever possible.

The third and final Ready to Run for 2017 is Friday April 28 in Ames. Some participants could be on local ballots this year.