Veteran political journalists and pundits Eleanor Clift and Tom Brazaitis interviewed scores of political women to answer this question. In their new book, they explore the possibilities and pitfalls awaiting women who aspire to the highest office. They also profile women elected at various levels of government and explain why female candidates win (or lose) elections. The fact that voters and politicians now take this question seriously reflects how hard women have worked to become contenders. A 1936 Gallup poll revealed that 65 percent of voters would not vote for a woman for president, regardless of qualifications. This book recounts how a feminist fantasy was transformed into serious possibility by activists, donors, and female candidates, all of whom took great risks to make it happen.

Clift and Brazaitis analyze Hillary Clinton's unique attempt to transform herself from first lady to senatorial candidate, and describe the emotional ups and downs of Geraldine Ferraro's groundbreaking candidacy for vice president in 1984. They reveal the problems that plagued Elizabeth Dole's run for President in 1999. The careers of women who have left their mark on Congress and state institutions come under the microscope: Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Mikulski, Ann Richards, Mary Landrieu, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Christine Todd Whitman, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Elizabeth Holtzman, and many others. The authors explore the candidates' motivations and behind-the-scenes maneuvers to get elected and consolidate power.

From these many portraits, common themes emerge. The most serious problem is money. According to one consultant: "Money and media nothing else matters." Women have great difficulty attracting money from big party donors. Some women have found ways around this bottleneck it helps to be successful in business first.

For female office seekers, family is a problem. Married women are accused of neglecting their families. Single women are assumed to be lesbians or "out of touch." Family relationships receive merciless scrutiny. Women must be nice, walking a fine line between "strident" and "weak." Toughness is essential; one opponent's political announced: "I'd like her for my daughter, but not District Attorney." Female candidates are often labeled as "bleeding hearts," although a new breed of conservative women has made this harder to do automatically. In addition to their informative accounts of women who have gone before, Clift and Brazaitis include advice from media consultants on how a future female presidential candidates can capture attention and avoid being stereotyped.

Mary Helen Clarke is a writer and editor living in Nashville.

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