In 2018, Cara Mund became the first Miss North Dakota to ever be named Miss America. Today, she’s gearing up to make history once again — but this time, as the first woman to represent North Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Mund, who announced her run in August, is running as an Independent, and says the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe. v. Wade is what inspired her to throw her hat in the ring.
“I grew up knowing my rights as a woman, and now, to potentially raise a young daughter in the future, knowing that her rights are going to be less than the rights that I have, I'm concerned,” Mund tells Yahoo Life. “We need more women at that table.”
Frustrated with the two-party system, the former Republican congressional intern secured more than 1,000 signatures to get her name on the November ballot as an Independent. "When you are upset with your government, when you're upset with your leaders, when you're upset with the political parties in your state, there needs to be an avenue," she says. "And so rather than pay to get on the ballot, I wanted to make sure I worked my way on the ballot."
After Mund announced her candidacy, the Democratic candidate Mark Haugen was pressured to drop out of the race, leaving a clear path for her to take on the Republican incumbent, Kelly Armstrong.
While North Dakotans typically vote Republican, Mund believes that many in her state are seeking common ground and alternative leadership, and she aims to be a voice for those who may feel unacknowledged by the major parties.
“When the Roe decision came out, I felt like there needs to be someone willing to challenge the status quo. The Democratic candidate at the time was anti-choice, as well as the Republican candidate. So I didn't feel like my voice, my perspective, was being heard — and it wasn't just me, it was for women across the entire state. If I didn't do it, I didn't think anyone else would step up," says Mund.
Working as her own campaign manager and without the backing of a large fundraising machine, Mund knows her bid for Congress will be an uphill battle. Still, this isn't the first time she's used her voice to speak up against the powers that be.
Early on in her reign as Miss America, there was a shake-up of pageant leadership due to the leaking of sexist emails, leading to some friction between Mund and those in charge during the transition. “There was a lot of pressure. I knew everything I said and did had a larger purpose and it represented the people of my state. The leadership change happened in December, and it became very evident early on that I was expected to be a puppet," says Mund. "I was not okay with it."
Later, Mund would make public claims of being "bullied" and "silenced" by those including Board Chair Gretchen Carlson (who denied all charges). “I look back on my decision to speak out and I'm so proud," she recalls. "It was one of the hardest days that I've had, but also the moment where I think I really found my voice and got the courage that when I see injustice, I have no issue standing up for those who aren't being heard."
During that period, Mund hired a pro bono lawyer who she says helped her to realize the power of the law. In 2022, she graduated from Harvard Law school, and last summer she was studying to take the bar exam in North Dakota when Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“The Dobbs decision came down right when I was studying that part of constitutional law, so it almost just cemented it even further," says Mund.
Mund is able to find common ground with her opponent on some issues, such as opposing President Joe Biden's loan-forgiveness program. But on the topic of abortion, Republican Kelly Armstrong, who is seeking his third term, won't budge on his strong pro-life stance.
"He has stated that he is fully anti-choice and I've challenged him in a debate about our North Dakota trigger laws," says Mund. "I push back a lot on that, and he keeps pushing that it should be back to the states. But he voted against codifying it when most of the nation, I think, is pro-choice, and making sure that those decisions are between a woman and her doctor."
Just like when she was Miss America, Mund says she refuses be a puppet. But she's more than happy to be the voice for those in North Dakota who aren't being heard or have been kept out of the conversation.
"We need women in these spaces, and especially after the Dobbs decision, because if you're not at the table," says Mund, "you're going to be on the menu."
—Video produced by Olivia Schneider