Why don’t more women governors become presidential candidates? Barbara Lee, president of the Barbara Lee Foundation created a guide, titled “Keys to the Governor’s Office” to help women running for governor. At first, her interest was on women and the presidency, but she notes that “as I understood more about the paths to power, it was clear that electing a woman president would become a reality only after we unraveled voters’ complex reactions to a woman seeking full executive authority.”
Marie Wilson, president of The White House Project also notes the importance of the role of governor to increase women’s participation on the national stage. “Look at governors from large states,” she told me when contemplating who may win the presidency. Brenda DeVore Marshall and Molly A. Mayhead, editors of Navigating Boundaries: The Rhetoric of Women Governors, note, “the increasing importance of the state governor throughout the history of the country, coupled with women’s steadily expanding role in the office, demonstrates that the face of leadership has changed. It also indicated that examining the women who are governors in America would be a good place to start when identifying women most likely to make successful bids for the presidency. But that doesn’t seem the case and it begs the question: “Why don’t more women governors run for president?”
Currently, there are six women governors. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan is out because of her Canadian birth. Still, of the five women governors eligible for the presidency, rarely do we hear of them as contenders. They include Linda Lingle, Republican of Hawaii, who like Democrat Chris Gregoire have won two terms and enjoy high approval ratings. M. Jodi Rell, Republican governor of Connecticut has announced her retirement. Other governors include the newly elected Beverly Perdue, Democrat of North Carolina and Jan Brewer who as secretary of state of Arizona was next in line to succeed Janet Napolitano when she became Secretary of Homeland Security. Though a small cadre, it begs the question: why don’t the names of these women don’t come up when presidential politics are discussed?
Is the rough media treatment of women candidates a deterrent? Are women who would otherwise plunge into presidential politics thinking twice when they consider the sexist media treatment of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin?
Communication scholar Erika Falk, notes in her book Women for President: Media Bias in Eight Campaigns that “if women have a negatively skewed impression of their chances of winning they may be less likely to run, and this may be the most important and worrisome potential outcome of press coverage of women.”
Governorships are the surest paths to the presidency. When we elect more women governors and more women governors become presidential candidates then a woman president will be more likely.
Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley and author of Almost Madam President: Why Hillary Clinton ‘won’ in 2008 (Lexington Books, 2009).