Though Clinton is out, 2008 is still a year for women in politics

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

America is 84th in the world for the number of women in office. While Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House may have ended, it has invigorated women throughout the nation to seek a place in elected office. The Takeaway talks to political guru Andrea Bernstein about how more women are throwing their hats into the political ring.

Andrea Bernstein's notes:

Both Barack Obama and John McCain are assiduously courting Hillary Clinton voters — you can read that “women.” One McCain media advisory was explicit: a “virtual town hall” with Carly Fiorina. The RNC Victory Chair was billed as drawing “former supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

So when a recent press release from the Obama campaign landed in my email box (“Subject: Obama campaign fills out key posts for the General election”) it prompted me to wonder, How many women are working in senior positions in the campaign? The release listed 15 positions, four of which will be filled by women. Those include former John Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, who will be chief of staff for Michelle Obama, and Patti Solis Doyle, Hillary Clinton Clinton’s ousted campaign manager, who will be leading up the efforts for the Vice Presidential nominee, whoever that may be.

The key front people for the Obama campaign are almost all men: David Axelrod, the chief strategist; David Plouffe, the campaign manager; Steven Hildebrand, his deputy; and Bill Burton, the chief spokesman. When asked, spokeswoman Jen Psaki sent me over a list of nine key women working on the campaign, from senior strategist Anita Dunn to policy director Heather Higginbottom. Psaki would not say what proportion of the senior brain trust that group represents, saying only “what is important is we have a number of women in senior positions and we always have.”

The McCain campaign (which is, on the whole, much smaller than the Obama campaign) could list only three top women, including Fiorina, who is not actually a McCain staff member but the head of the RNC’s fundraising efforts. The McCain campaign, headed by campaign manager Rick Davis and senior strategist Charlie Black — both men — also wouldn’t say what percentage of the senior staff were women. A spokesman, Peter Feldman, did offer that of the total campaign staff, 60 percent were male, 40 percent female.

To be sure, Hillary Clinton also had her share of men in senior positions including Geoff Garin, her chief strategist, who replaced Mark Penn. The campaign chairman was Terry McAuliffe, and senior advisor Harold Ickes was a key campaign front man. The press spokespeople were Howard Wolfson, Phil Singer, Mo Elleithee, and Jay Carson. But there were women in key positions: The candidate herself, of course, and campaign manager Maggie Williams, who replaced Solis Doyle after a series of Clinton defeats in February.

Nor is my own profession shrouded in glory. There are excellent women political reporters covering this race — but I can’t remember a single debate that was moderated by a woman (or an African American, for that matter). The majority of the chief newspaper political reporters are men, most of the must-read campaign blogs are written by male journalists, and the list goes on.

Does this matter? More later on what campaigns (and journalists) miss when women are out of the picture.

— Andrea Bernstein, Takeaway Political Director

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