- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

Female candidates face a tough time convincing voters, especially men and older women, that they have the toughness, decisiveness and background to serve in executive offices such as governor, a new study suggests.
"The conventional wisdom for women running for executive office is that she must be tough, but not too tough, smart, but not too smart, assertive but not aggressive and feminine but not girly," said Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, which conducted the study.
Despite the growing success of female candidates for Congress and state legislatures, governorships have been elusive. This year, 10 women sought governorships. Four won.
Voters start out being tougher on women candidates than male candidates, said the study by the New York City-based nonprofit group dedicated to electing women. As a result, female candidates must show they can be effective leaders and talk tough about the economy and crime.
"What women say, how they say it and where they say it affects how voters perceive them," Miss Wilson said. "While these are concerns for anyone in politics, we've found that compared with men, women are seen as less effective and tough from the moment they appear on the television screen."
The study suggested that women candidates have an advantage over men on issues such as social programs, improving education and putting the interest of people first. But first they have to address voter concerns on several levels about their ability to be in charge.
Some of the study's key findings include:
Women seeking executive office get the "benefit of the doubt" from voters to a lesser degree than men. This is especially true among older female voters.
Voters, especially male ones, are more likely to question a female candidate's use of personal biography in her campaigns.
Women candidates must avoid appearing too casual or too glamorous, as these images undermine their credibility in voters' minds.
Political endorsements do not appear to be as effective for female candidates.
One of the obstacles women face in winning election to executive office is the low number of female role models in executive positions, both in business and politics, the study said.
"We don't see women in executive leadership positions, so that the voters aren't thinking that women can do it," said Karen O'Connor, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University.
Ms. O'Connor said voters don't see women in Congress as having leadership roles. But Ms. O'Connor said if Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, is elected as House Minority Leader, it would put a different face on women in politics. Mrs. Pelosi is seeking to replace Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri when the Democrats elect their new leaders today.
James Farwell, a media consultant to Republicans, said in order to win, female candidates need to show they will make a difference in voters' lives. When women run for office, they tend to dwell on the fact that they won't leave their own families behind.
"What voters are interested in is what you're going to do to fulfill their hopes and allay their fears," Mr. Farwell said. "None of this matters unless you can connect this to a vision for the future."


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