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Monday, April 23, 2012

Women as Political Currency

Tis the season for weekly polling, televised debates, and vice presidential candidate selections.  While it seems every day a new name is floated for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's ticket, special attention is being paid to the potential VP's gender.  Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina is one speculation, and I saw on Meet the Press yesterday that first-term Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire would also be an interesting choice.  What is more fascinating to me is not that women are more and more frequently being considered for this position, but rather the unspoken rationale for their selection seems to be a stronger ability for the presidential candidate to attract the female vote.

Senator Ayotte, for example, lacks the foreign policy experience that Romney's resume also omits.  She's from a state that doesn't deliver many electoral votes, and she has very little name recognition on the national stage.  She hails from the same geographic region as Romney (unless you consider Michigan his "home state"), and she doesn't have the cleanest record for her political career.


So why even consider her for VP?  She had some big names campaign for her during her senatorial bid in 2010 - John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Rick Santorum, to name a few.  As Jessica Brady aptly titled an article on Roll Call, the "GOP has plans for Ayotte if she wins."  Why?  She might be able to attract younger voters since she's not yet part of the Washington establishment and has two kids of her own.  But more importantly - there aren't many other Republican female politicians like her out there.

Let's take a journey down memory lane to my favorite campaign of recent memory - 2008's presidential run.  Really what did Sarah Palin have to offer the GOP besides some far-fetched female support and appeal to very right-winged Republicans (besides an excellent first name)?  Alaska has practically negligible electoral votes, and like Ayotte, she was also a no-name in the national political arena.

Should we be offended that debate over VP candidates seems to treat women's votes as a singular block?  Or just amused by the simplicity of their thinking?  Sure, Ayotte could be a more successful running mate than Palin was in 2008, but would she otherwise be considered if she were a man?  I don't think so.


Photo Attribution:  United States Congress via Wikimedia Commons

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