04
Oct
11

Why do we put “yes” in the mouths of male candidates?

“N.J. Gov. Chris Christie has decided not to seek 2012 presidential nomination, GOP source in New Jersey says.” The news flashed across my email and reminded me again just how much pundits and the press wanted Chris Christie to run, even though he emphatically said he wasn’t.  “Now is not my time,” he declared.  How refreshing.  But it begs the question:  why does the press get so worked up about a candidate who has no intentions of running when there are other viable candidates, who happen to be women, with more experience than Christie?

It is because women are the forgotten would-be candidates. 
It isn’t surprising that a governor would attract Republicans who are looking for fresh leadership.  Political scientists often direct attention to governors when determining who will emerge as presidential candidates.  From a communication perspective, the governorship gives a candidate a platform that showcases leadership ability while distancing them from legislative intricacies, which can complicate their presidential possibilities. Governorships frequently serve as a proving ground for presidential hopefuls.  A governor rises above partisan legislative actions, which increases her ethos, at least theoretically speaking,  as a presidential contender. 

Here are two women governors you may have never heard of:
Democratic governor of Washington, Christine Gregoire is enjoying the same high approval ratings during her second term that marked her first.    A compelling personal narrative, Gregoire was raised by a single mother and was the first woman elected attorney general in Washington. As governor, she balanced the budget and expanded health coverage. 

Like Gregoire, former Republican governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, enjoyed success and popularity in her second term. She was the first mayor elected governor of Hawaii and the first female governor of Hawaii. During the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, Lingle took to the national stage when she served as chairman of the convention. 
It seems as though Republicans are actively seeking a new figurehead.   Maybe they should focus their attention on potential candidates who seem to receive the least attention:  women.   Despite her success at offering Hawaii a “new beginning” by making state government more open, and her high approval ratings throughout her two terms, former Hawaii Governor Lingle, like Governor Chris Gregoire, are not mentioned as presidential timbre.  

Even when a woman declares her candidacy for president, the press often reduces her “yes” to as close a “no” as possible.  In 1999 press speculation abounded that Elizabeth Dole’s presidential bid was really just a hope for a vice presidential nod.    And even after Hillary Clinton won almost 18 million votes, the most notable aspect of her campaign that lingered in the media was that she lost.  Women running for president are subjected to an overly critical media and a downplaying of victories, as we have seen with the campaign of Hillary Clinton.  Even worse, women who have served two terms as governors have barely recognizable names because the press forgets about them.    

In case anyone wants to beg a potential candidate, here are the names of women governors, in addition to Christine Gregoire, Democratic, Washington:   Beverly Perdue,  Democratic, North Carolina; Jan Brewer, Republican, Arizona; Susana Martinez, Republican, New Mexico; Mary Fallin, Republican, Oklahoma; and  Nikki Haley, Republican, South Carolina.

I say we forget about Governor Christie, at least for now.

Nichola D. Gutgold is associate professor of communication at Penn State Lehigh Valley and author of several books, including the forthcoming:  Gender and the American Presidency:  Nine Presidential Women and the Barriers They Faced, co-authored with Theodore F. Sheckels and Diana B. Carlin.


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