Miss America eyes bigger prize

At 17, she looks to a political career and the White House

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Sarah Palin. Michele Bachmann. And one day - she hopes - Teresa Scanlan.

The reigning Miss America, who at 17 was the youngest to win the coveted crown since 1937, has a unique career goal for a pageant winner, an honor even higher than Miss America - president of the United States.

Unlike the stereotypical pageant queens who try to keep their opinions studiously and blandly apolitical, Miss Scanlan - interviewed late last week while visiting the Young America’s Foundation High School Leadership Conference, an annual gathering of politically active young conservatives - doesn’t try to hide her political inclinations or her interest in current events.

“I wasn’t like the kids on ‘Toddlers and Tiaras.’ When I was 7, my political aspirations were already starting. I was like, ‘I’m going to be a lawyer, then a politician, then president.’ I didn’t even play princess when I was younger,” Miss Scanlan said. “I would dress up in suits and pretend to be a news reporter.

“I know that even if you’re not old enough to vote, you should still take the time to learn all you can and be educated on issues. Ignorance is never bliss,” she added. “D.C. isn’t this intangible thing. It affects you at any age.”

With the somewhat recent surge of female politicians - particularly a strong roster of rising conservative women - Miss Scanlan’s chances of realizing her political goals could be improving. Although there are still only 89 women out of 535 members of Congress and only six states have female governors, the hottest candidate in the 2012 GOP presidential sweepstakes right now is Congresswoman Bachmann of Minnesota.

“Women need to continue to prove that they can stick very true to their morals and have strong character and not be wishy-washy. Be decisive, don’t be back and forth. As long as we keep proving those things, people will put more stock and more trust in us,” Miss Scanlan said.

The former Miss Nebraska also said women must focus on rising up in military positions, breaking any stereotypes about their inabilities.

“They have to prove they can be in positions of leadership,” Miss Scanlan said.

Many would be shocked to think a beauty queen could offer anything more to society than a brightly colored ball gown and a shiny smile. But the Miss America pageant, which unlike most pageants has no entrance fee, gives away about $40 million in scholarships for women each year - more than any other organization in the world.

“The number-one goal of the organization is to promote the academic and educational goals of women,” Miss Scanlan said. “It’s not about winning a sparkly crown. It truly is about getting those resources to get the education you want and get the career you want - so for me, politics.”

The beauty queen said pageants aren’t the superficial competitions much of the public sees them as, but are in fact a great stepping stone for women interested in politics and public affairs.

“[Pageant contestants] have something they care so passionately about it, they don’t want to be just another voice out there. It gives you the platform and it gives you the microphone,” she said.

Miss Scanlan isn’t the only pageant contestant who has ever had political aspirations - 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee Mrs. Palin placed third in the Miss Alaska Pageant in 1984.

Miss Scanlan said that, unlike other women in politics, her campaign would focus more on positive messages instead of painting negative pictures of others.

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