Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Warming to a Woman as President Voters, Weary of Politics-as-Usual, Are More Receptive to Theidea Than Ever Before

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Warming to a Woman as President Voters, Weary of Politics-as-Usual, Are More Receptive to Theidea Than Ever Before

Article excerpt

If Elizabeth Dole decides to run for president, as she hinted this week she might, she won't be the first woman to take that leap.

In the 1870s, there was Victoria Woodhull, candidate of the new Equal Rights Party. In 1964, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R) of Maine became the first woman to run for the nomination of a major party.

Then there was Rep. Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first black woman elected to Congress, who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. But there's a big difference between these failed candidacies and any that might be gearing up now: The public has never been more receptive to the idea of a woman president, say political observers. Polls show a greater proportion of the public than ever is willing to vote for a qualified woman as president. In a larger sense, as politics-as-usual becomes less and less appealing, driving down turnout, voters are looking for candidates who break the mold. Exhibit A is Minnesota's new governor, Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler turned Reform Party dynamo. Consider also Arizona, where the top five elected positions in the state are now held by women. "Difference is now a positive," says Marie Wilson, cofounder of The White House Project, an effort to drum up support for the notion of electing a woman president by 2008. "Brave women like Shirley Chisholm and Gerry Ferraro {Democratic vice presidential nominee in 1984} ... were different when people weren't looking for different. People focused on their gender and skin color, in Shirley Chisholm's case, in a way that was often contentious." Now, she says, the climate is very positive toward difference. Being a white male is no longer a must on the list of qualifications for election to higher office. Female candidates, in fact, benefit from perceptions that women are more honest and sincere than men. And overall, recent history has shown that in races for state legislature and the United States Congress, when a woman runs she is just as likely to win as a man is. It also may work to women candidates' benefit that the top issues of the day - Social Security, health care, and education - are all areas in which women are seen as having special expertise. Not a trendsetter Still, for a country that prides itself as being on the leading edge of global trends, the US is far behind other countries that long ago elected their first female heads of state, such as Britain, India, and Pakistan. In others, such as Ireland and Iceland, women held the top job for such long stretches that young boys wondered out loud if they would be permitted to run for president someday. Part of the difference stems from America's winner-take-all political system, which usually thwarts third-party and unusual candidacies. In a parliamentary system, it's easier for a faction to build a coalition and win. …

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