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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.

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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.

"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."

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