Secretary of State candidate Deidre DeJear narrowly defeated Jim Mowrer in the Democratic primary today, propelling her to a matchup with incumbent Republican Paul Pate. If DeJear wins in November, she would become Iowa's first black statewide elected official.
DeJear's candidacy for the top elections official post will be a deeply personal effort for the 32-year-old business owner. Born in Mississippi, her father didn't have the chance to vote for much of his life in the Deep South state.
"When my dad was born, he didn't have the opportunity to vote," DeJear told Starting Line. "It was only when he was older that black individuals got the opportunity to vote. Even then, voting in Mississippi in the 1970's was tumultuous in its own right. It was one of those understood things that we were cut out of the system for so long, that even when granted the opportunity it still didn't feel like we were welcome as a people."
She grew up in Mississippi and Oklahoma, then came to Iowa for school at Drake University. DeJear worked on Barack Obama's campaign in 2012, heading up African American vote outreach efforts.
Although largely an unknown to most of the Iowa Democratic political community before last year, DeJear put together a solid campaign and impressed donors and activists. She even raised more money in the last finance report than Mowrer, who had run for Congress twice before.
EMILY's List also got involved in the race, endorsing DeJear in a statewide race that doesn't typically see much outside help. However, there will likely be substantial assistance for DeJear for the general election. The Let America Vote organization and others have turned national Democrats' focus to secretary of state races that impact voting laws. Let America Vote has a very large presence in Iowa.
Had DeJear not won the nomination, the entire statewide ticket would be white men (though an eventual Lt. Governor pick almost certainly will be a woman and there are female congressional candidates). She's also proven herself to be an enthusiastic, rallying speaker on the campaign trail, so watch for her to be one of the party's best ways of motivating their base to turn out.
DeJear has criticized Pate's support of a new law requiring identification at the polls. The law is being phased in and will be fully implemented in 2019.
DeJear said she wants to encourage voter participation in Iowa and make the office more accessible for small businesses.