Constructing Images in Presidential Primaries: An Analysis of Discourse Strategies in the Dole and Bush Iowa Straw Poll Speeches

Article excerpt

American politics often is regarded as a male institution. From the perspective of representation, this view is difficult to deny. Since the founding of our country, 98% of our congressional representatives and 100% of the major party candidates for president have been men; female representation in Congress did not surpass 10% until 1993 and still constitutes only 16% (Center for American Women and Politics [CAWP], 2006a). Therefore, when scholars explore the construct of the ideal presidential candidate it is reasonable to assume that this construct might be grounded in and favor a male image. Although ideal presidential candidate image traits appear to be consistent over time (Miller, Wattenberg, & Malanchuk, 1984, 1986; Trent, Short-Thompson, Mongeau, Nusz, & Trent, 2001), the research on which this finding is based examines contests featuring only viable male candidates. As they become recognized as viable contenders for our country's highest executive post, therefore, the questions arise: Can women portray the ideal presidential candidate? Will their strategic choices in projecting this image differ fundamentally from men?

Just before the new millennium, the Republican presidential primaries presented an opportunity to explore these questions. Elizabeth Dole's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination marked the first time that a woman was considered to be a viable presidential candidate (Heith, 2001; Heldman, Carroll, & Olson, 2005; Seelye, 1999). By taking her place on the national stage among a lineup of male Republican hopefuls early in the primary season, Dole challenged the polity to take a female candidate seriously. Research clearly documents that news media coverage of Dole's campaign was less favorable and more gendered than coverage of her competitors (Heldman et al., 2005). When she controlled the discourse-as in her public addresses-however, did Dole present the image of a viable presidential candidate to voters? Might Dole's communication strategies inform the campaigns of future female presidential contenders?

This study seeks to understand whether and how gender shapes candidates' strategies in creating a presidential image. It analyzes image development in the speeches of Republican presidential candidates, Elizabeth Dole and George W. Bush, during the 1999 Iowa straw poll. Through the lens of a presidential candidate prototype, this study compares the candidates' image building strategies and thus the influence of gender on these strategies.

WOMEN AS POLITICAL CANDIDATES

Understanding whether and how gender interacts with the ideal presidential candidate prototype is important as women assume more visible roles as elected leaders in government. Women are emerging onto the national stage as serious and viable candidates in presidential primaries. Although Elizabeth Dole is considered "the first woman to be perceived as a serious Presidential prospect" (Seelye, 1999, p. A1), she is not the first woman to run for President of the United States.

In 1872, Victoria Claflin Woodhull ran against incumbent, Ulysses S. Grant, and editor, Horace Greeley, on the Equal Rights Party ticket (CAWP, 2006b). In 1964, Senator Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman to seek a major party nomination, receiving votes in five state primaries and 27 first-ballot votes at the Republican national convention, after which she withdrew (CAWP, 2006b). In 1972, Shirley Anita Chisholm became the first African American woman to run for president and the first woman to seek the Democratic nomination (CAWP, 2006b). She was on the party's ballot in 12 states (CAWP, 2006b). Through 2004, 6 women have run for president as minor party candidates and 15 have sought a major party's nomination.

Now, eight years after Dole's effort, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and, to date, has exceeded Dole in fundraising, polling numbers, and time in the primary trenches. …