Thursday, January 19, 2006

Americans more receptive to idea of woman president

Americans more receptive to idea of woman president
By Catherine Hours, Agence-France Presse

NEW YORK — Americans are getting used to the idea of being led by a female president with political observers dreaming of a showdown between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Senator Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election.

If polls, a television show about a woman president and a prediction by First Lady Laura Bush are any indication, Americans appear willing to follow Liberia and Chile in electing their first woman president.

Before attending the presidential inauguration of Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female president, Laura Bush predicted last week that a woman would lead the United States someday soon.

"I think it will happen for sure," she said, adding it will "happen probably in the next few terms of the presidency in the United States."

Reality may imitate art in 2008. Commander in Chief, which stars Geena Davis as the first female president, became a hit television series after appearing last year. Davis won a Golden Globe for her role on Monday.

A recent Gallup poll for USA TODAY and CNN showed that 70% of Americans said they would probably vote for a woman in 2008.

But before Clinton and Rice can battle for the ultimate power seat in the Oval Office, they would have to become the first women to win the nomination of the top two American political parties.

Republicans and Democrats have yet to pick a woman as a White House nominee, although Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in Walter Mondale's failed presidential bid in 1984.

Laura Bush has already her view on the subject known. She told CNN last week that Rice would be a great Republican candidate to succeed her husband, President George W. Bush, who marks the first year of his second term Friday.

"I'd love to see her run. She's terrific," she said.

Rice, however, has said she does not want to run for president.

Clinton, who has led potential Democratic candidates in opinion polls, has yet to declare her intentions.

Although neither has said she will run for president, political observers are already pining for a battle between the two powerful women.

Dick Morris, a former adviser to ex-president Bill Clinton, co-wrote a book titled Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race.

The book imagines a political duel between "two highly accomplished women, partisans of opposite parties, media superstars, and quintessentially twenty-first-century female leaders."

To Morris, only Rice has the potential to reach across the political spectrum to stop Clinton from winning the 2008 election.

While Rice's boss saw his popularity rating plunge last year, the chief US diplomat remained a popular government figure.

After Johnson Sirleaf's inauguration and Chilean president-elect Michelle Bachelet's election victory this week, seeing a female US leader is becoming less uncommon, analysts said.

"It's perfectly possible," said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University professor.

"We're talking on a week in which a woman president was inaugurated in Africa and a woman was elected in Latin America, so this is not any longer so unique," Hess said.

"Here polls show that gender doesn't really make that much difference anymore," he added.

Women have made gains in the U.S. political landscape, although the United States remains in the 63rd spot worldwide in terms of female legislative representation.

There are 69 women in the 435-member House of Representatives and 14 female senators in the 100-member Senate.

Clinton has an edge over Rice because she has won an election, while the secretary of state has never run for office, Hess said.

"The odds are greater that it would be Hillary rather than Condi," he said. "You would have to go very far to find a president of the United States who hadn't been elected to some previous office."

All three individuals who became presidents in their first attempts at winning any kind of election were retired generals: Dwight Eisenhower, president from 1953 to 1961; Ulysses S. Grant, 1869 to 1877; and Zachary Taylor, 1849 to 1850.

Chester Arthur, who became president in 1881 after the death of James Garfield, had never run for election before seeking the vice presidency as part of the Garfield ticket.

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