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Will Americans vote outside the box? For more than 200 years, American Presidents have been, with one exception, white, male, and Protestant. In 2008, a number of presidential 'firsts' are possible.


The old saying that "any boy can grow up to be President" was never true for women or minorities [and rarely for non-Protestants). But in 2008, there's a chance that a woman, a black, a Hispanic, or a Mormon could win the White House. To do so, candidates like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will have to overcome some hurdles.

The next President of the United States won't be inaugurated until January 2009, but the race is already well under way. Among those in the running: Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, whose father was from Kenya; Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, the wife of former President Bill Clinton and the first First Lady to be elected to public office; Mitt Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts and a Mormon; and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, whose mother is Mexican.

But the question remains: Are Americans ready to send a black man, a woman, a Hispanic, or a Mormon to the White House?

Women and minorities have made tremendous gains in winning public office. The new Congress includes 87 women (among them, the first female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi of California). That compares with 25 in 1984, the year Representative Geraldine Ferraro, a Democrat from New York, became the first woman to run as a major-party vice-presidential candidate.

There are now 43 blacks, 30 Hispanics, and 16 Mormons in Congress (along with 43 Jews, and for the first time, a Muslim--Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota). A Gallup poll in September showed a steady rise in the number of people who expect the nation to elect a woman or an African-American as President one day.

Times are indeed changing. But how much?

Over the past eight years, according to Democratic and Republican analysts, the country has shifted markedly on the issue of gender. Analysts say voters could very well be open to electing a woman in 2008. That is reflected, they say, in polls and in the continued success of women running for office, in red and blue states alike.

"The country is ready," says Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2000. "I'm not saying it's going to happen in '08. But the country is ready."

For all the excitement stirred by Obama, it is less certain that an African-American could win a presidential election. Not as many blacks have been elected to prominent positions as women. And demographics might be a factor as well: Blacks are concentrated in about 25 states--typically blue ones, like New York and California. While black candidates cannot assume automatic support from black voters, they would at least provide a base. In states without large black populations, the candidate's "crossover appeal" would have to be substantial.


"All evidence is that a white female has an advantage over a black male, for reasons of our cultural heritage," says the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, the civil rights leader who ran for President in 1984 and 1988. Still, he says, for black and female candidates, "it's easier, emphatically so."

Geraldine Ferraro has a similar take. "I think it's more realistic for a woman than it is for an African-American," she says. "There is a certain amount of racism that exists in the United States. Whether it's conscious or not, it's true.

"Women are 51 percent of the population," she adds. Blacks make up about 13 percent.

Many analysts suggest that changing attitudes can best be measured in choices for Governors since, like Presidents, they are judged as chief executives. There is currently one black Governor--Deval L. Patrick of Massachusetts, the second in the nation since Reconstruction.

By contrast, women are Governors of nine states, including Washington, Arizona, and Michigan. Governor Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan, who won a second term in November, says that when she first ran, she had to work harder. "Not this time," she says. "They are used to a woman being Governor."

Of course, Governors don't have to handle national security. And Hillary Clinton has used her six years in the Senate to try to counter the stereotype that women would not be as strong on the issue, especially with the nation at war. Clinton sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was a supporter, at least early on, of the war in Iraq.

Obama says that many black voters have serious questions about whether America is ready to elect a black President.

"I think there is a protectiveness and a skepticism within the African-American community that is grounded in their experiences," says Obama. "But the skepticism doesn't mean there's a lack of support."

Obama is in many ways an unusual black politician, and that is why many Democrats, as well as Republicans, view him as so viable a candidate.

He is from the post-civil-rights generation of black leaders and not identified with more polarizing politicians like Jackson and the Reverend AI Sharpton of New York. Democratic strategist Donna Brazile says she has been deluged with e-mails from people looking to volunteer for Obama, mostly from whites.

While race and gender may be issues in American politics, they are not the only ones, particularly when it comes to the presidency. Obama's lack of experience may be far more of an issue than his color. He is 45 and in only his second year as a Senator.

Clinton faces other issues. She is something of a polarizing figure, with devoted supporters, but a significant number of voters tell pollsters they would never vote for her. "Clinton fatigue" may also be a factor. For some voters, two terms of Bill may have been enough of Clintons in the Oval Office.


Religion has been an issue in the past. Romney, a Mormon (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith), may face questions about his faith, just as John F. Kennedy--the nation's first and only Roman Catholic President--did in 1960. Many Americans feared that a Catholic President might be influenced by Church policies, or consult the Pope when making crucial decisions.

Kennedy tried to address those fears in 1960 in a speech to Baptist ministers in Houston.

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," he said, "where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source."

Since 1960, several Catholics have run for President, along with several Mormons (including Romney's father, George, the Governor of Michigan, in 1968). While Mormons consider themselves Christians. some Christians do not accept them as such and view the Mormon Church, which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah, with suspicion.

Bill Richardson, who was elected to a second term as New Mexico's Governor in November with a record 69 percent ot the vote, is optimistic about Americans' open-mindedness.

In an interview on ABC's This Week, he said: "I believe this country is a very tolerant, positive country. I believe the country would be ready for a woman President, an African-American President, Hispanic President.

"But I wouldn't run as a Hispanic candidate," Richardson added. "I would run as an American, proud to be Hispanic, proud of my heritage."

BARACK OBAMA, 45, was born in Honolulu. He is a graduate of CoLumbia University and Harvard Law School and was an Illinois State Senator for seven years. A Democrat, he was erected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois in 2004.

HILLARY CLINTON, 58, a Chicago native, is a graduate of Wellesley and Yale Law School. When she won her Senate seat representing New York in 2002, she became the first First Lady erected to public office. Clinton, a Democrat, is now in her second term.

BILL RICHARDSON, 59, was born in California. A graduate of Tufts University, he was a Congressman for 15 years, and U.N. Ambassador and Energy Secretary under President Clinton. A Democrat, he is now Governor of New Mexico.

MITT ROMNEY, 59, was born in Detroit; his father was Governor of Michigan. A graduate of Brigham Young University, Romney earned degrees in taw and business from Harvard. A Republican, he was erected Governor of Massachusetts in 2002.

Adam Nagourney is chief political correspondent for The New York Times. Additional reporting by Jeff Zeleny and Matthew L. Wald of The Times and Suzanne Bilyeu.




Women weren't even allowed to vote when Stanton became the first woman to run for the House of Representatives.



The Republican Congresswoman from Montana was the first woman elected to either house of Congress.



The Democratic Senator from Massachusetts defeated Richard M. Nixon and became the first, and only, Roman Catholic President.



A Republican from Massachusetts, Brooke was the first black elected to the Senate by popular vote, and the first black Senator since Reconstruction.



The Democratic Congresswoman from Brooklyn, N.Y., was the first black to seek the presidential nomination of a major party.



The Democratic Congresswoman from Queens, N.Y., was the first woman to run for Vice President on a major-party ticket.



In his second run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Jackson won 11 primaries.



Virginia voters made Wilder, a Democrat, America's first elected black Governor, and the first black Governor since Reconstruction.



An Illinois Democrat, Moseley Braun was the first black woman elected to the Senate.



The Democratic Senator from Connecticut was the first Jew to run for Vice President on a major-party ticket.



The California Democrat is the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House.




* Ask the key question in the article: How many students think a woman, a black man, a Hispanic, or a Mormon could be elected President next year? Would they consider race, gender, or religion in voting? Do they think their parents would?

* Next, assign students to write five-paragraph essays in which they explain why they think the election of a woman, an African-American, a Hispanic, or a Mormon candidate is or isn't likely. In their essays, they should identify factors that might enhance, or impede, the candidacies of each.


* If Senator Elizabeth Dole is correct about the country being ready for a female President, what do you think accounts for the shift in attitudes about gender? Why does there appear to be Less of a shift on the question of a Mormon President?

* Why do you think the stereotype persists that women are not strong on issues of national security?

* Do you agree with Jesse Jackson that America's "cultural heritage" is difficult for black presidential candidates to overcome?


** The first woman to become a Cabinet member was Frances Coralie Perkins, Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt through his entire term in office, 1933-45. As Secretary of Labor, Perkins was the first woman to be in the line of presidential succession. She resigned when Roosevelt died in 1945.

WEB WATCH /Facts.html

The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University provides data and Links to information about elected and appointed women in government.


1. During her six years in the Senate representing New York, Hillary Clinton has tried to counter the idea that female politicians

a shy away from economic issues.

b tend to focus on social-welfare issues.

c would not be as strong on issues of national security.

d devote more time to their families than to matters of state.

2. Geraldine Ferraro, a New York Congresswoman, made history in 1984 when she

a was elected the first female Governor.

b became the first woman to run as a major party's vice-presidential nominee.

c became the first female Secretary of State.

d became the first female U.S. Ambassador.

3. Political observers suggest that Illinois Senator Barack Obama's biggest hurdle as a presidential candidate may not be his color but

a his lack of experience.

b the fact that he comes from the Midwest.

c the fact that his father was foreign born.

d his position on the war in Iraq.

4. If Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney becomes the next President, he will be the first Mormon to serve in that office. Religion was also an issue in 1960, when

a voters overwhelmingly rejected another Mormon candidate for the presidency.

b the first Jew was a presidential candidate.

c an atheist ran for President.

d John F. Kennedy became the first, and only, Roman Catholic President.

5. Nancy Pelosi is one of the most powerful women in America as

a a newly elected Senator from California.

b Deputy Secretary of State.

c Speaker of the House of Representatives.

d Chief Counsel to President Bush.


1. Are there any circumstances under which it might be appropriate to question a political candidate about his or her religious affiliation?

2. The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson says it would be easier for a woman than a black man to be elected President "for reasons of our cultural heritage." How would you define the "cultural heritage" Jackson speaks of?


1. [c] would not be as strong on issues of national security.

2. [b] became the first woman to run as a major party's vice-presidential nominee.

3. [a] his lack of experience.

4. [d] John F. Kennedy became the first, and only, Roman Catholic President.

5. [c] Speaker of the House of Representatives.

 % of respondents who % of respondents who
 answered YES answered NO

 ... for a BLACK President?


ALL 62% 34%
WHITES 65 31
BLACKS 54 42

 ... for a WOMAN President?


ALL 60 37

 ... for a MORMON President?


ALL 29 66


Note: Table made from bar graph.

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Article Details
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Author:Nagourney, Adam
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Feb 19, 2007
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