Thursday, August 28, 2008

John McCain has a golden opportunity to craft a historic Republican ticket by selecting a female as his nominee for vice president. Such a move can appeal to 52 percent of the electorate who are women and who might be drawn to a ticket that will include America’s first female vice president - another glass ceiling shattered.

Democrat Geraldine Ferraro was the only female nominee to appear on a presidential ticket of the two major parties in a 1984 unsuccessful bid for the White House. If Mr. McCain wins the election, for the first time in American history, a woman would be one heartbeat away from the presidency - and possibly one term away from being the first female president. What better way to steal Barack Obama’s thunder as an agent of change?

Mr. McCain would also appeal to Hillary Clinton supporters who feel betrayed by the Democratic Party. According to a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 27 percent of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are dissatisfied with the Democratic nominee and will not vote for Mr. Obama - an increase from 16 percent in late June.

At the top of the list of viable female vice presidential picks for Mr. McCain is Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard and one of Mr. McCain’s leading economic advisers. Mrs. Fiorina, 53, was named by Forbes magazine, in 1998, as the most powerful woman in business. Mrs. Fiorina is articulate, forceful and intelligent. In an Aug. 26 appearance on Fox News’ “On The Record With Greta Van Susteren,” for example, she was formidable in explaining that women care most about economic issues, are opening small businesses at a rate of 2-to-1 in contrast to their male counterparts and are drawn to a low-tax, free-market agenda. As a strong, capable woman with executive experience, she can appeal to Clinton supporters. And as a pro-lifer she will galvanize the evangelical base of the party.

The downside of selecting Mrs. Fiorina is that she is still relatively unknown. Furthermore, she commanded a huge salary as CEO and could be painted as out-of-touch with ordinary Americans. Her 2005 departure from HP was turbulent. She also recently sparked a firestorm with her comments that insurers cover Viagra but not birth control.

Another choice for Mr. McCain is Sarah Palin, the first female governor of Alaska. She is intriguing as a woman with impeccable conservative credentials, a reformer with a reputation for vetoing big spending bills and taking on big oil. She has had approval ratings in Alaska as high as 90 percent. Mrs. Palin is staunchly pro-life, a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association and a former beauty queen.

But the pitfalls are that she may be too young, her state has only three Electoral College votes and in July she became embroiled in a scandal over the firing of the Alaska Commissioner for Public Safety Walt Monegan. An investigation is ongoing.

The longest-tenured female Republican senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, has also been touted as a possible contender. Mrs. Hutchison has a wealth of experience: She headed the Senate Republican Conference, has strong foreign-policy credentials and currently serves as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. Hailing from Texas, she has a proven record in attracting Hispanic voters.

Yet, Mrs. Hutchison’s candidacy would rile the evangelical base of the party since she supports embryonic stem cell research and is pro-choice. Also, having two senators on the Republican ballot might be potentially fatal in an era where anti-Washington sentiment runs high.

In assessing the pros and cons, it appears that Mrs. Fiorina could be the best choice among the female contenders. Mr. McCain can make 2008 the year Republicans blaze a new trail.

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