Who Will be the First?

I’m really not quite sure why the New York Times would declare “Asked to name a potential first woman as president, though, even the shrewdest political strategists said they couldn’t think of anyone.”

I’m sure a lot of women are terribly disappointed that Hillary isn’t going to be elected this year, but are we really in a position where we can’t imagine any other women winning the presidency besides the wife of a former president. The third highest elected official in the country is a woman. There are 16 women who are senators and 8 who are governors. Granted, some of them aren’t likely presidential material, but a lot are. That doesn’t even take into consideration that the two of the last three Secretaries of State have been women. Condoleeza Rice is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate and Madeline Albright, who consistently polls as one of the most popular political figures in the country, would be if she were born in America and were a little younger.

I can think of no reason why Janet Napolitano (D-AZ), Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) or Sarah Palin (R-AK) wouldn’t get serious consideration if they threw their hat in the ring. Napolitano and Sebelius are both successful executives who have brought Republicans and Democrats together to govern their states. Sebelius has basically killed the Republican party in the state, getting a former chairman of the state Republican party to cross the aisle and run as her Lt. Governor. Palin is only 44 and has not only taken on the corrupt Alaska Republican establishment, but done so while maintaining 80 percent approval ratings. Jodi Rell (R-CT) and Linda Lingle (R-HI) are popular female governors. Even Christine Gregoire (D-WA) is an incredibly talented governor who could get consideration if she wins reelection. If Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) was born in America she would be a formidable candidate. The only woman governor who I couldn’t see mounting a serious presidential bid in Ruth Ann Minner (D-DE), mostly because of her age.

The Senate isn’t as fertile a ground for female presidential contenders, but its hardly a waste land either. Many of the candidates who could have been considered, such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) are too old to be considered at this point. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) is also probably too old. The best prospects are likely Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who were just elected in 2006. Both are impressive women with relatively moderate politics and strong political skills. McCaskill was able to knock off a popular incumbent in Jim Talent and Klobuchar trounced Rep. Mark Kennedy, who was initailly supposed to be a competitive candidate. Both are rising stars in the Democratic party, especially McCaskill, who has been a key surrogate for Barack Obama.

There are also a large number of female House members who, while not immediate contenders, certainly could advance their careers to the point where they are viable candidates. Member of the 2006 Freshman class like Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Michele Bachman (R-MN) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are all up and comers who could win consideration. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD) is incredibly impressive and could well move up and be in position for a run. Heather Wilson (R-NM) is facing a tough Senate race she will probably loose, but she is incredibly impressive, an Air Force Academy graduate, Rhodes Scholar and National Security Council staffer, who would make a very credible statewide and potentially national candidate. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) are both rising stars in their respective caucuses and could be statewide candidates in a few years. Blackburn was considered a formidable candidate for Bill Frist’s seat when he retired in 2006. I’m sure there are other young women House members who I’m missing too.

In short, there is no lack of credible women politicians. Napolitano, Sebelius, Palin, Klobuchar and McCaskill could all run in 2012 and nobody would bat an eye. They might not win, but winning the presidency is an incredibly difficult prospect. In the future there are at least half a dozen up and coming House members, almost all of whom are currently younger than 50. That doesn’t even count lower level state officials such as the ones mentioned in the Times article, like Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman.

Thats just the candidates we know of now. The Times asserts that

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.”

I’m not so sure. Certainly its unlikely that it will happen, if only because it is so rare that someone with Obama’s level of experience gets nominated for president. The last one to be comparable was Jimmy Carter. But the reasons that Obama has become such a formidable candidate seem to me to have nothing to do with his sex or race. They have to do with the fact that he is an incredibly talented politician. He is uniquely charismatic, has a one of a kind personal story and is great at connecting with average Americans. Its not a set of skills that comes along very often. Combine that with the unique fact that he was chosen to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention before he was even a member of the Senate and you have close of a one of a kind confluence of events.

But I can easily imagine a similar series of events for a woman candidate. Imagine. A youngish state senator in a swing state, say Florida, wins a contested nomination against establishment candidates to take on a popular, incumbent governor. The media would start to take notice. Not necessarily the national mass media, but certainly the state media and the national political blogs. She is charismatic, inspiring, was raised by a single mother in deprived circumstances and has that rare ability to connect with people. She attended the best universities in the country and was a successful lawyer who chose to use her skills to give back to the community instead of making money for herself. Voters start to notice how impressive this woman is and she starts to draw large crowds. She manages to upset the governor and win the fall election. I know Obama didn’t have to beat an incumbent, but the boost from knocking one off would approximate the boost he got from the keynote address. The press would be enamored with the new governor. People across the country have taken notice and know her name and the national media features her in several glowing profiles. She has a solid first term, passing some incremental reforms and maintains good relations with the opposite party, and has no scandals or other incidents that reflect poorly on her. In the midterm election she works hard for congressional candidates in her state, raises a significant amount of money for them and has a good record in the election. Shortly afterwards she announces she is running for president.

Would it be crazy to think that woman would have a shot at the nomination? I don’t think so. It certainly would be a long shot, but she wouldn’t be laughed out of the room and would be taken seriously. People tend to forget how many things had to go right in the campaign for Barack Obama. She would have her shot. She’s have to demonstrate her ability to fundraise and connect with voters, like Obama did, but its certainly doesn’t seem impossible.

The idea that it will be generations until a woman wins the presidency just seems a little far fetched. On the Democratic side none of the 2008 contenders are likely to run again, given that they will all be either too old or washed up. on the Republican side Mike Huckabee could run again and Mitt Romney could try, but he’s probably politically toxic. There will be wide open fields in 2012 and 2016 with a new generation of candidates. The baby boomer generation is getting too old to run for president. There will be a new crop of candidates coming up and it seems very likely that at least some of the next crop of candidates will be women. They may not win but they will serious contenders, but they’ll be right up there. Its only a matter of time.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Who Will be the First?

  1. Pingback: Chelsea for Keynote? « Jeremy Beales

  2. Ted

    Here’s an important piece of advice: If it looks like it’s going to be McCain/Palin anyway (and that should be a “no brainer” for Team McCain), McCain should announce NOW or VERY SOON, rather than later towards the convention. There’s currently a growing chorus for Obama/Hillary (as VP) ticket (in fact the Dems are likely aware of the Palin phenomenon). If the GOP waits while movement for Hillary as VP grows — even worse until after it is solidified that Hillary will/could be VP pick — selecting Palin will be portrayed by Dems/liberal media more as a reaction by GOP selecting its own female (overshawdoing Palin’s own remarkable assets), rather than McCain taking the lead on this. Selecting Palin now or early (contrary to the punditocracy) will mean McCain will be seen as driving the course of this campaign overwhelmingly, and the DEMS will be seen as merely reacting. And, there’s absoultely no down-side to this because even if Hillary is a no-go as VP for Obama, the GOP gains by acting early. McCain the maverick. Palin the maverick. Do it now!

    There’s no reason, and actually substantial negative, in McCain waiting to see what the Dems do first insofar as his picking Palin as VP, because, no matter who Obama picks, Palin is by far (and I mean far) the best pick for McCain and the GOP, especially in this time of GOP woes. The GOP can be seen as the party of real ‘change’ (albeit I hate that mantra, change, change, bla bla), while not really having to change from GOP core conservative values, which Palin more than represents.

    In light of the current oil/energy situation, as well as the disaffected female Hillary voters situation, and growing focus on McCain’s age and health, Palin is more than perfect — now.

    (Perhaps Team McCain is already on to this.)

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