/ 13 July 2008

The hunt is on for a female US Veep

One is a former beauty queen. Another is a business icon. Others are governors, senators and diplomats. All of them are women. The race is now on for both John McCain and Barack Obama to choose a running mate and — call it the Hillary legacy — speculation is running wild that either, or even both, candidates will pick a woman.

Clinton may have failed in her bid to become America’s first female president, but her groundbreaking campaign has paved the way for a number of other women potentially to get on the ticket as vice-president.

As the Clinton-Obama battle demonstrated, mobilising female voters with a strong woman candidate can be a powerful political tool. Clinton’s defeat by Obama has also left a large swathe of disillusioned supporters who could be impressed by a candidate who picks a woman for the party ticket.

”There is a lot of advantage to be gained from it, especially on the Democrats’ side,” said Professor Tracy Osborn, a political scientist at the University of Iowa. ”They have a lot of people who backed Clinton recovering from a long fight. Picking a woman might appease them.”

Since Geraldine Ferraro became the only woman so far to appear on a presidential ticket, in 1984, the pool of possible women candidates — especially among governors — has grown enormously, and for both candidates the bounce earned by drawing on the talent pool could be considerable.

Vital for Obama
In a column last week entitled ”The case for a woman as vice-president”, political writer Douglas Drenkow argued that it is vital for Obama to pick a woman. He needs to do so, Drenkow wrote, not just as a matter of Democratic politics, but also to lessen the impact if McCain went with the tide and selected a female vice-presidential candidate.

”Do we Democrats want Republicans to beat us to the punch?” he asked on the political website OpEdNews.

Top of potential Democratic picks is Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas. She has shown the political nous to win popularity for Democrats in a state that in recent history has been strongly Republican. At 60, and as a two-time governor, she would bring much-needed age and experience to Obama’s campaign.

But Sebelius is not alone. Another name being bandied around political circles is Claire McCaskill, a Senator from Missouri. Despite strong pressure to endorse Clinton, McCaskill backed Obama and helped him to win her home state. Since then she has been a highly visible campaigner for Obama. Missouri is also likely to be a vital state in the November election and picking McCaskill could boost Democratic chances there.

Finally, there is Hillary Clinton. The narrowness of Obama’s win means that Clinton’s name has to be on any shortlist for vice-president. Picking her would perhaps offer the best chance of healing a divided party. However, it would also bring in a host of other problems, including the campaign role of Bill Clinton.

There is also some speculation that Hillary does not want the job. But no one is ruling her out. The former first lady could still return to the White House. ”It could still happen. I was surprised by how quickly she got out there campaigning for Obama,” Osborn said.

The Republican choice
The Republicans, too, are mulling the advantages of putting a woman on the ticket. If they did — and Obama did not — it could be a major coup with undecided women voters. The most intriguing Republican choice would be Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, whom Forbes once called the most powerful woman in business. She has become a powerful adviser to McCain and has been travelling extensively with him in recent weeks.

Another possible female pick for McCain is Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. She is the darling of the conservative wing of the Republican party, which McCain is seen as needing to bolster. Once a beauty queen in her home town of Wasilla, she has gone on to carve out an impressive career in the rough and tumble of Alaskan politics, earning a political image as a tough woman, famed for riding snowmobiles and eating moose burgers. She is also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and has had five children.

The political gossip blog Wonkette once dubbed her ”America’s hottest governor”. Given McCain’s age and crusty persona, a glamorous, dynamic female running-mate such as Palin would be a presentational bonus.

Finally, there is also a groundswell of support in some Republican circles to try to get Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s name on the ticket. Though Rice has repeatedly stated that she has no interest in the job, several supporters’ groups have sprung up to push for her to be considered.

Tough choice
Some experts believe that the vice-presidential choice, which both candidates will make before their respective party conventions, is hardest for McCain. His supporters are split along ideological grounds with conservatives whereas Obama’s are divided more on simple personality issues concerning himself and Clinton. That could make McCain’s choice — whether a woman or not — more difficult.

”It is probably a much harder decision for McCain to make, and then there is his age. McCain’s pick is more likely to end up actually being president,” said Professor Shawn Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside.

Many of the female names in the hat are being considered for the traditional reasons involved in picking a running mate and not just as an exercise in gender outreach. These include trying to ”balance” a ticket by making up for a candidate’s weakness. Or coming from a potentially vital part of the country. For example, both Palin and Fiorina would bring youth and excitement to a McCain campaign in need of both.

At the same time, politicians like Sebelius and McCaskill are important to Obama, not just because of their sex, but also because they are older Democrats who have had great electoral success in relatively conservative parts of America.

Clinton’s campaign — though it failed to win — was by far the biggest blow yet against the political glass ceiling in the United States. The battle for the respective vice-presidential roles is likely to reveal the extent of the cracks that have now appeared.

”The more women run for such high office, then the more normal it becomes. She has opened up the doors for them,” said Osborn.

Obama’s possibles
Kathleen Sebelius
This two-time Governor of Kansas is a growing force among Democrats because of her popularity in a deeply Republican state. She has even persuaded some top local Republicans to switch parties.

Claire McCaskill
The Senator from Missouri took a brave stance by backing Barack Obama when the pressure on her was to go for Clinton. That helped Obama win Missouri and boosted her standing.

Hillary Clinton
Whether she wants it or not (or if Obama wants to offer it or not), Hillary has to be considered for the job. Picking her could unite the party. But then it could divide all over again.

McCain’s possibles
Carly Fiorina
She has risen to the top in business showing that she can perform in a male-dominated world. But the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard has drawn mixed reviews on the campaign trail.

Sarah Palin
The Governor of the wild state of Alaska is in many ways a Republican dream: highly popular, unabashedly conservative and yet with youth, beauty and a sense of humour. She’s a gun-toting mother of five.

Condoleezza Rice
She has said repeatedly she does not want the job. But vice-presidential choices often say that. Putting her on the ticket against Obama would be an audacious move to show the Republicans are racially diverse. But her links to Bush would be unpopular.

— guardian.co.uk