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From Barnes & NobleGround Zero for a Female President?
What better testing ground could there be than Arizona to probe the attitudes of voters about a woman running for president? The top five elected officials in the state are women, and Phoenix has a female mayor. If a cultural sea change is taking place, surely this is ground zero, we thought. The focus group we assembled didn't disappoint.
Gary, a registered Republican in his 50s, said he could vote for Hillary Clinton as president. "After all she's been through, she could handle anything," he said. "I admire the woman." A young working mother said she had "no respect personally" for the First Lady, "but, yeah, she's a good candidate. I'd probably vote for her."
The prospect of Hillary Clinton as a future presidential candidate is an example of the expanding opportunities for women in politics. Who could have guessed after the 1996 election that the wives of the two presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole, would have brighter political futures than their husbands -- one as a Senate candidate in New York; the other as a possible running mate for George W. Bush.
It's been 16 years since Geraldine Ferraro made history as the first woman on a major party ticket. Women have climbed to the top in almost every field once dominated by men. Yet with only three women governors (out of 50) and nine female senators (out of 100), at this rate it will be 250 years before women achieve parity in politics.
Some women hope to hurry history. If Hillary is elected to the Senate in November, she will vault to the top of the list as a prospective presidential candidate. Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is taking steps to position herself for a future presidential run by amassing a campaign war chest and tutoring herself in foreign policy and national security.
Robert Kennedy's daughter Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the lieutenant governor of Maryland, has her father's strong social conscience and the drive that could make her the Kennedy that reaches the White House.
New Jersey governor Christie Whitman is viewed by many as the prototype of the first woman president. Her strong pro-choice views are out of step with her party, but that could change if the GOP's right wing loses power with the ascendancy of George W. Bush and his more moderate brand of conservatism.
Yet, when focus group participants in the female-friendly state of Arizona were asked to name women who could be president, the list was painfully short: Clinton, Whitman and California senator Dianne Feinstein. Arizona governor Jane Hull was added as a courtesy. Pressed for more prospects, they came up with Martha Stewart and Rosie O'Donnell.
Women have made enormous strides in politics, but when it comes to the presidency, the country is more ready for a woman than there are women ready to take the plunge. Politics is not for the faint-hearted. Jim, a retired construction worker, said women "fall to pieces" under stress, and that if George W. Bush nominated a woman as his running mate, he'd vote for Al Gore.
The woman sitting next to Jim rolled her eyes and gave him what the moderator described as "a death stare." She pointed out that women today work outside the home, earn advanced degrees in equal numbers as men, and juggle their professional responsibilities with raising families. "There isn't anything we can't do," she said. "Given a little time and experience, we'll be at the presidency level."
When will women start running for the presidency in greater numbers than one so that a woman candidate is no longer a novelty? The dream contest could come as early as 2008, with Whitman the standard-bearer for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee. What will Jim do then? He'll get used to it.