Asked about the prospect of a woman winning the presidency during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded: “I’m not going to pretend that running for president as a woman is not daunting….and it is….probably a path that doesn’t appeal to a lot of women even in elective office because it is so difficult.”
Clinton’s comments — coupled with the resignation of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) over the weekend — got us to thinking about the dearth of female politicians in the political world at the moment who are actively discussed as presidential mettle.
Clinton was widely regarded as the best hope women had to see one of their own elected to the White House; she was well-known, had a huge political machine at her disposal, pots of campaign cash to spend and was widely seen as up to the job by the American public.
“Meet” host David Gregory asked Clinton the “if not you, who” question to which Clinton responded: “I am convinced — and I don’t know if she is elective office right now or preparing to run for office — but there is a woman who I am hoping will be able to achieve that.”
A quick glance at the roster of women currently serving in the Senate or as governor — the ranks from which presidential candidates typically emerge — turns up 17 senators and six governors.
Of that group, just one — Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) — has ever been seriously mentioned as a national candidate. But, Hutchison seems set on returning to the Lone Star State full time with her 2010 primary challenge to Gov. Rick Perry (R). If she wins that race, Hutchison would theoretically be in position to run but she would be 69 years old on election day 2012 and putting together a national campaign would be hard to imagine.
Outgoing Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm was widely seen as a rising star with the Democratic party when she was elected in 2002 but the cratering Michigan economy has diminished her appeal significantly. Also, she’s Canadian — not that there’s anything wrong with that! — making her ineligible to be president.
That leaves 21 other women — none of whom are actively discussed as potential national candidates. The best possibility is Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) who could be appealing given her ability to win statewide in Missouri. But, McCaskill will almost face a serious re-election fight in 2012 (Jim Talent, anyone?) and has to get through that race before she can be seriously considered.
Down a level to the House, the pickings are also slim. (Historically running from the U.S. House is a death wish for presidents; the last — and only — sitting member of Congress to win the White House was James Garfield in 1880.)
The most obvious choice would be Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) who has a strong political pedigree (her grandfather was governor, her father was a longtime state legislator), the ability to win votes in a red state and is young enough at 38 to spend the time needed to build the sort of network she would need to run for national office. But, Herseth Sandlin declined an expected run for governor in 2010 — delaying an expected ascent into a more high-profile office. If Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) decides against seeking a fourth term in 2014, Herseth Sandlin would be the obvious choice.
Among the candidates currently running for statewide office in 2010, there are few obvious choices. Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) and former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) are each young, highly regarded and running for the Senate; at the gubernatorial level, former eBay President Meg Whitman (R) and Florida CFO Alex Sink (D) might be possibilities if they can get elected.
But, that is far down the road. The simple fact is that Clinton was by far the best positioned woman to win the nation’s highest office and there is no one like her in the political minor leagues at the moment.
Could Palin be that person? Perhaps, although her high unfavorable ratings with Independents and Democrats complicate any path for her to the White House even if she decided to run.
Are there up and coming women we missed? Feel free to offer their names in the comments section below.
The Washington Post