Cara Mund speaking with a young voter. Image Source: Wyatt Ell
Cara Mund’s run for North Dakota’s sole seat in the US House of Representatives is a one-woman show. The 28-year-old and former Miss America says she currently holds nearly a dozen job titles: head of social media, campaign manager, treasurer.
“I really earned my way onto the ballot,” Mund says. “There’s so much that we as women candidates face in terms of barriers that we have to prove even more why we deserve to be there.”
Mund, who graduated from Harvard Law School earlier this year, announced her candidacy in August — a late entry for any congressional race. But in just a few months, she has drummed up interest in a conservative state; she’s running as an independent against Republican incumbent Rep. Kelly Armstrong. (Mark Haugen, the Democratic candidate, dropped out of the race after Mund entered, saying he didn’t see a viable path toward winning.)
Benjamin J. Kassow, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Dakota, points out that polls on this election “show wildly divergent numbers,” so it’s hard to determine how much of a shot underdog Mund has. Although it’s been more than a decade since North Dakotans sent a non-Republican to the House, Mund — the only Miss America to hail from the state — is also “reasonably well-known,” Kassow says.
Mund would make history if she wins on Tuesday — she’d be the first woman North Dakota sends to the US House. And she’s running on an issue that has been one of the top motivating issues this election cycle, especially for women: abortion rights.
“Either I could sit back and complain about it, or I could do something.”
Although a North Dakota judge has blocked a near-total abortion ban that was set to take effect in August, the state’s only abortion clinic also moved across the border to Minnesota that same month.
Ahead of her historic race, Mund speaks with POPSUGAR about what inspired her run, how her stint as Miss America (and her decision to speak out against the Miss America Organization) has shaped her campaign, and why it’s important to challenge the status quo.
POPSUGAR: What have the final few days before the midterm elections been like for you?
Cara Mund: It’s a sprint to the end. They say I announced late in the cycle. I announced in August, and it was out of pure strategy knowing that, running as an independent, I’m not going to have the finances that my opponent has. I also can’t personally fund my own campaign like he could. So I had to be as strategic as possible. So it feels like I’ve kind of been sprinting this whole time.
The past few weeks, every day is different. Something comes up, and it’s like, oh, I have to rearrange this. I am doing this fully on my own, so that’s a unique aspect. But I think, too, when it comes down to, “I need to move something,” I have the contact right there. I don’t have to go through someone to get to someone else. So that’s been nice, too. I wake up and it’s like, what’s the day going to be? I have a plan, but it’s probably going to change.
PS: Take me back to what inspired you to get into this race.
CM: I was in my last year of law school. In November , the incumbent voted against the infrastructure bill, and coming from North Dakota, our roads need to be redone. I think we have 430 miles of roadway that need to be redone, 800-some bridges. So it was very clear that we needed this infrastructure money and we needed to help the people of North Dakota — it brings jobs, it helps our farmers. It just seemed like it was just continuously the party over the people.
That was the first thing . . . I’d always been following politics. I worked for a Republican senator, it’s something that I’m passionate about. But it was the first time I was really wondering, who is he representing?
Then the Dobbs decision was kind of the final straw of: I don’t feel represented. There are very few women in office in North Dakota. We are one of three states that has never had a female in the US House representing us. And before I got in, the Democratic candidate was also an antichoice candidate, so after the Dobbs decision, there was not a candidate that was for women’s reproductive health. Either I could sit back and complain about it, or I could do something. So I decided to put my hat in the ring, and I earned my way on the ballot.
Cara Mund after being sworn in at the September 2022 North Dakota Bar admission ceremony. (Family photo)
PS: Say you’re elected on Tuesday. What would be your No. 1 issue once you get to Congress?
CM: So for North Dakotans, the Farm Bill is huge, so keeping that in mind as I really want to fight for our farmers and our ranchers. . . . Inflation is huge, and affordable drug prices is something that’s really important. Another thing is just upholding democracy. It’s going to be an interesting time going into 2024. . . . And then women’s rights. [Armstrong] uses that line, “Well it should go back to the states.” And it’s like, well then how come Lindsey Graham brought a bill to ban it at the federal level?
PS: Are there any women in Congress now who you look up to?
CM: It’s interesting because whoever I say, if she’s a Democrat or a Republican, then people will say I’m a Democrat or a Republican. So I haven’t picked a specific person, and I admire men and I admire women. And that’s another part of it. I don’t want people to vote for me just because I’m a woman. I keep saying that we need women at the table, but I want people to vote for me because I’m the best candidate.
But the qualities that I really admire are those who are willing to go against their party for what they know is right, standing up for democracy. If our base level in this election is who supports democracy, then our nation needs to make a change. So someone who has the courage to do that. A representative who really listens to the people and isn’t there for their own agenda. Someone who really looks at the text of these bills, and not just how does the majority or minority leader tell me to vote. And someone who is putting in the work and remembering that this is a job of public service.
I think for a lot of these incumbents who have been there term after term, they don’t feel the need to keep on working as hard as they did at the beginning. I want voters to know, when you’re unhappy, go vote. Take that person out of office and put someone in there who you think is truly going to represent you and challenge the status quo.
PS: You clearly challenged the status quo in your previous career — speaking out against the Miss America Organization. I wonder, where did you find the strength to go against the grain of what was expected of you?
CM: With Miss America, I never expected to say anything. But it got so bad to the point that it was just like, if I don’t say something, I know the next woman is going to come in and experience the same thing and we’re going to continue this pattern of behavior and it’s going to be OK and acceptable. So when I spoke out about Miss America, that was probably the hardest thing I’ve done, and I was very fearful. But I do think it really prepared me for running for office. At this point, there are very few things that I’m afraid of.
When you see an injustice, you have to speak out, because if you don’t, no one else is. And it’s all of our duties to stand up when you have a leader you don’t think is representing you.
PS: And my last question for you, in the days before the midterms, what’s your message to voters — and women specifically — about why they should cast their votes in these elections?
CM: Now more than ever, the things that are on the ballot are impacting us personally. Women’s reproductive health — currently, we don’t have equal representation at the federal level. The best way we can make our voices heard, the best way we can have a seat at the table, is to make sure we are voting for candidates and individuals, getting involved in campaigns, that are going to be there to represent us and be a voice for us.
I truly believe that with an election, your voice is so powerful. Go out, exercise that right, post on social media, show people why you’re voting for certain candidates, why you support them. Because it’s also just information. It’s incredible what a vote can do, and challenging that status quo is one of the best things we can do as women, and not sit back. . . . We are trailblazers across the board.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Want to read more about abortion access across the country? Check out POPSUGAR’s 50 States, 50 Abortions, a large-scale storytelling project that aims to elevate the voices of people who’ve had abortions.