The New York Times; by Kate Zernike; May 18, 2008
If not her, who?
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton may or may not become the first female president of the United States, but if fate and voters deny her the role, another woman will surely see if the mantle fits.
That woman will come from the South, or west of the Mississippi. She will be a Democrat who has won in a red state, or a Republican who has emerged from the private sector to run for governor. She will have executive experience, and have served in a job like attorney general, where she will have proven herself to be “a fighter” (a caring one, of course).
She will be young enough to qualify as postfeminist (in the way Senator Barack Obama has come off as postracial), unencumbered by the battles of the past. She will be married with children, but not young children. She will be emphasizing her experience, and wearing, yes, pantsuits.
Oh, and she may not exist.
But this composite of Madam President is suggested by political strategists and talent scouts, politicians and those who study women in politics. It is based as much on the lessons of the Clinton candidacy as on the enduring truths of politics and the number and variety of women who dot the leadership landscape.
Caveats abound: as Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, emphasized last week, this thing is not over. And these predictions may prove as false as any by the time the first woman takes the oath of office — whether in 7 months or 9 years or 90.
With all that said, there are few obvious candidates, particularly among Republicans, perhaps because there are about twice as many Democrats among women in elective office nationwide. Sarah Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, is on many lists — she’s known as a reformer as well as for riding a motorcycle and referring to her husband as the “first dude.” On the Democratic side, the names that come up most seem to be Govs. Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, both Obama supporters.
Asked to name a potential first woman as president, though, even the shrewdest political strategists said they couldn’t think of anyone. Most people disqualified their prospects as soon as they identified them — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for example — for one reason or another. As Susan Carroll, a professor at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said, “It’s easier to embrace the concept than it is to talk about names.”
Still, this year’s historic campaign has revealed something about the kind of candidate who might emerge, and what strategies she might adopt.
Certainly, the numbers make it possible. Women make up a quarter of state legislatures and statewide elective executive offices, and 16 percent of the House of Representatives. Eight governors and a record 16 senators are women.
And polls suggest that the country is ready to elect a woman — if not as ready as many people might expect. In December, a Gallup poll found that 86 percent of Americans said they would vote for a well-qualified candidate who was a woman (of course, that percentage has been in the 80s for much of the last three decades). Ninety-three percent said the same of a well-qualified candidate who was black; 93 percent of a Catholic candidate; and 91 percent of a Jewish one.
Mrs. Clinton has won 17 primaries. She has soundly defeated the assumption that a woman could not raise money, or that women would not donate (they make up about half of her contributors).
And she has put the idea of running for president into the realm of possibility for other women. While it is a Washington truism that every senator looks in the mirror and sees a potential president (even if senators rarely win), that has not applied to women. (This partly explains why people assume that senators like Dianne Feinstein, Patty Murray, Kay Bailey Hutchison and the rest of the older guard don’t want to run.) But the first woman to be president probably will not come from the established names in Washington anyway.
From Mr. Obama, many people take the lesson that someone can come out of nowhere — four years ago, he was a little-known state legislator.
“The environment is so poisonous, it’s reached a point where political experience can be a negative,” said Nelson Warfield, a Republican media consultant.
Meg Whitman, for example, the former eBay chief executive who is a big fundraiser for Senator John McCain, is said to be interested in running for governor of California, which would make her a natural contender for president. (Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive advising Mr. McCain, is another name mentioned as a possible executive turned candidate, though she is not believed to want to run.)
But almost anybody — and particularly women — will discount the idea of a woman as dark horse.
“No woman with Obama’s résumé could run,” said Dee Dee Myers, the first woman to be White House press secretary, under Bill Clinton, and the author of “Why Women Should Rule the World.” “No woman could have gotten out of the gate.”
Women are still held to a double-standard, and they tend to buy into it themselves.
They do not have what Debbie Walsh, the director of the Rutgers center, says she used to call the John Edwards phenomenon and now calls the Barack Obama phenomenon: having never held elective office, they run for Senate, then before finishing a first term decide they should be president.
Mr. Obama, of course, had served as a state legislator. But “when we look at women in state legislatures, they’re much more likely than their male colleagues to need to be asked to run,” Ms. Walsh said. While men are assumed to be qualified, women have to prove they are, or at least they believe they do.
In the Senate, the names that come up most often are Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, both Democrats. But a successful woman is more likely to come out of a governor’s office.
Ms. Palin is sometimes mentioned as a vice-presidential pick for Mr. McCain, and Ms. Sebelius, for Mr. Obama. Beverly Perdue, the lieutenant governor of North Carolina, who is running for governor, is also named as a prospect.
Others suggest House members who might run for governor, particularly the new crop of young Democratic dragon slayers who won in Republican districts or swing states, like Representatives Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, or Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
Others single out Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, the Democrat who represents South Dakota in the House, for an inspirational speaking style that some compare to Mr. Obama’s.
Almost unanimously, the experts say that a successful contender will come from a younger generation than Mrs. Clinton — promising, as Mr. Obama has, to move to a post-boomer era, beyond the old identity politics.
But as fundamental a change as that may be, much else seems unlikely to change.
Mrs. Clinton easily cleared the bar with many voters on her ability to be commander in chief, making it easier for people to see a woman in that role. Still, most people assume that the burden will fall on women to prove toughness — of a certain kind.
Mrs. Clinton seemed to have the most success in the last months, fighting like a mama bear for her cubs. So some people look to women who have earned reputations as tough fighters: Lisa Madigan, a Democrat who is attorney general in Illinois, and mentioned as a possible successor to the embattled governor, Rod Blagojevich. On one list was Kamala Harris, an African-American who is the district attorney in San Francisco.
Others say the West evokes a frontier image, or that the South tends to produce women who are tough but charming (Ann Richards, say, who some lament never ran).
Likewise, a woman who runs for president will have to be married with children, which to voters signifies middle America. (This might disqualify Ms. Napolitano.) But while it’s an asset for men to have young children — so Jack Kennedy! — a woman with the same tends to make voters wonder who will take care of them. (That might temporarily bench Ms. Palin, who recently had her fifth child, and Ms. Gillibrand, who, after introducing an amendment to the farm bill, gave birth to her second on Thursday.) The pattern has been more like the one followed by Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to be speaker of the House, who entered Congress when her children were grown.
Ms. Pelosi also comes from a political family, which suggests another good qualification. On some lists is Sarah Steelman, a Republican who is state treasurer and running for governor in Missouri. Her husband was a Republican leader in the Missouri House, and her father-in-law a state party chairman. On other wish lists is Maria Shriver, with the Kennedy allure, a strong following among women, and a husband who is said to eye the White House but can’t run because he was not born in this country. And of course, some Democrats dream of Chelsea Clinton, who has revealed herself to have her father’s ease and her mother’s discipline.
But for many women, whether or not they support Mrs. Clinton, the long primary campaign has left them with a question: why would any woman run?
Many feel dispirited by what they see as bias against Mrs. Clinton in the media — the “Fatal Attraction” comparisons and locker-room chortling on television panels.
“Who would dare to run?” said Karen O’Connor, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. “The media is set up against you, and if you have the money problem to begin with, why would anyone put their families through this, why would anyone put themselves through this?”
For this reason, she said, she doesn’t expect a serious contender anytime soon. “I think it’s going to be generations.”
Others say Mrs. Clinton had such an unusual combination of experience and name recognition that she might actually raise the bar for women.
In fact, the biggest point of agreement seemed to be that there is no Hillary waiting in the wings.
Except, of course, Hillary.