For 2016, Remember the Women

How can a woman win a party nomination if she's not even talked about as a possible candidate?

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Long before the presidential nomination contests get underway, the glass ceiling goes up. During what might be termed the "speculation cycle" (this pre-announcement phase of the invisible primary), media commentators convey to the public one consistent message: Presidential politics are not for women.

With the exception of Hillary Clinton, whose name has been on nearly everyone's list of potential Democratic nominees since 2004, only a handful of women have ever even gotten mentioned as possible presidential contenders. What's worse is that pollsters don't seem to think about including women elected officials in their candidate lists.

For instance, the latest Quinnipiac Poll includes the names of nine Republicans who may run for their party's nomination in 2016 – no women. Sadly, as Nate Silver's summary of speculation cycle polling indicates, omission is the norm. Between 1984 and 2012, more than 100 men but only seven women have been included as possible presidential candidates.

Pollsters neglected two women who did run – Democrat Carol Moseley-Braun (2004) and Republican Michele Bachmann (2012). They also named more Republican women than Democratic women, despite the fact that many more women elected officials during these years (those in a position to run) were Democrats.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

How can a woman win a party nomination – forget the presidency for a moment – if she's not even talked about as a possible presidential candidate?

Imagination comes before actualization, and as my colleagues have grippingly shown, Hollywood can't even seem to imagine a legitimate fictional woman president. When a woman makes it to the Oval Office it is by accident and her presidency is part of the joke.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

It's time to change. Here's a list of eight women – four Democrats and four Republicans – who should not only be talked about, but be pondering their own presidential possibilities.

Starting with President Obama's cabinet, two women stand out: Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Both women have not only served as cabinet-level appointees and held elective office in their own right, but each has developed deep ties to key liberal constituencies within the Democratic Party. Certainly, one has to imagine that both have better relationships with progressive activists and labor unions than much-discussed Maryland governor Martin O'Malley.

This is also true of newly-elected, but nationally-known Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Another Democratic contender, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, possesses not only political experience, but also access to wealthy Manhattan liberals who are as likely to support her as Governor Andrew Cuomo should Hillary Clinton not run.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Will the Benghazi Attacks Tarnish Hillary Clinton's Legacy as Secretary of State?]

Americans tend to prefer Washington "outsiders" over "insiders," and right now, that's where potential Republican women candidates have an edge over Democratic women. While each would need to win reelection in 2014, there are three female Republican governors – Oklahoma's Mary Fallin, South Carolina's Nikki Haley, and New Mexico's Susana Martinez – finely positioned for a presidential run. Surely, given their personal stories and conservative credentials, each would likely do better in Iowa than the oft-mentioned New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Further, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who was elected the same year as Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, not only hails from the state that holds the nation's first primary election, but her high-profile questioning of the administration's response to the attacks in Benghazi and her position on the Senate Armed Services Committee give her some foreign policy credentials other talked about candidates like Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal are lacking.

While none of these women may run for president, it seems obvious that no woman will win the White House as long as so few women are considered for their party's nomination. As distinguished Duke University professor John Aldrich has explained: "The standard line that anyone can grow up to be president may be true, but it is only true if one grows up to be a major party nominee."  

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