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Incumbency Test Looms Larger for Female Governors

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The four women running for gubernatorial reelection are playing up their accomplishments like all incumbents. But on this remaining frontier of female political leadership this emphasis is considered particularly important. The second of two stories.

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The four women running for gubernatorial reelection are playing up their accomplishments like all incumbents. But on this remaining frontier of female political leadership this emphasis is considered particularly important. The second of two stories.




Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin will be seeking reelection next year.

Credit: republicanconference on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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(WOMENSNEWS)-- The four female incumbents in the field of about 30 governors seeking reelection in November 2014 are doing something considered incumbent upon any female executive who wants her job back: playing up their accomplishments.

The quartet includes three Republicans: New Mexico's Susana Martinez, Oklahoma's Mary Fallin and South Carolina's Nikki Haley. The lone Democrat is New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan. All are emphasizing their ability to get things done as evidence of why they deserve to be reelected to second terms next year.

Oklahoma's Fallin has stressed in meetings with business leaders throughout the state that the law she signed in May, which changes the workmen's compensation system from a judicial system to an administrative one, will help companies expand operations and create new jobs. The law allows businesses to opt out of the workmen's compensation system as long as they provide equivalent benefits to injured workers.

South Carolina's Haley told a crowd in Greenville that her economic initiatives had added 35,700 jobs in the state.

In interviews with reporters on the campaign trail, New Mexico's Martinez touted her closure of a $450 million budget gap. She also has cited the "positive contribution to the state economy" of exempting some products and services from the gross receipts tax, which helped constructions and manufacturing businesses.

At a meeting of business and community leaders in Concord, New Hampshire's Hassan described how improved management systems were making state agencies more efficient.

While all gubernatorial incumbents are expected to blow their own horns in reelection season, that may be particularly important for female politicians in this remaining frontier of female political leadership.

"Voters are comfortable with women as legislators but not as chief executive," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., in a phone interview. "Women currently hold 98 or 18.3 percent of the 535 seats in the 113th Congress, but only five governorships."

The Male Advantage

Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation in Cambridge, Mass., agrees. "Our studies have found that by a large margin, voters believe it is harder for women candidates to appear qualified for major statewide offices, such as governor, than male candidates," she said in a phone interview.

Kimmell said that even if voters don't particularly like male candidates they will elect them to executive positions if they think they are qualified. But they won't do that in the case of female candidates.

To be considered truly worthy, female gubernatorial candidates must present more evidence of "results oriented" expertise in financial and crisis management than do male gubernatorial candidates.

"Women also must have a leadership style that is tough but caring and be seen as political insiders who are able to handle the Old Boy Network and get results," said Kimmell, whose foundation conducts nonpartisan political research with an eye to advancing women's equality and representation in American politics.

Voters also want to know how women's roles in their personal lives affect their political positions. For example, does a female gubernatorial candidate support increases in the minimum wage because she struggled as a single parent while completing her college degree?

In addition to the four female incumbents running for reelection, 10 Democrats and seven Republican women have expressed interest in running in 2014, the Center for American Women and Politics reported Sept. 3.

That total figure of 17 first-time candidates is down from 2010, when 26 female candidates (12 Democrats and 14 Republican women) filed for governor. The number of women filing for gubernatorial races has fallen over the years.

Two High Points

The high point occurred in 1994 when 34 women (18 Democrats, 15 Republicans and an independent) filed, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

The peak for female officeholders was in 2004 and 2007, where there were nine female governors. Twenty-four states have never had a female governor.

The incumbent governors should have an easier time raising campaign funds because they have more sources than first-time candidates do, said Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics in Helena, Mont.

In 2009-2010, gubernatorial candidates raised $1.2 billion, a record amount, reports the institute, which was founded in 1999 to reveal the influence of special interest groups in state elections.

"First time gubernatorial candidates are highly dependent on their own finances and the parties, which discourages many women from running, especially in large states where campaigns are extremely costly," Barber said.

The Republican Governors Association raised $23.5 million for the first half of 2013, nearly double the amount of the Democratic Governors Association and doubling the amount raised at this time four years ago, according to campaign disclosure reports.

The Republican Governors Association also has more than $37 million in cash on hand, almost double the amount from four years ago, to target key Democratic-held seats in 38 governors' races over the next 15 months.

No Guaranteed Victory

Barber said that raising the most money, especially one's own funds, doesn't necessarily lead to victory, because voters sometimes assume that the candidates doesn't understand their needs and won't work to solve their problems.

She cited Republican Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay, who gave her own campaign $144.2 million--the most any state candidate had ever given--but lost the 2010 race for California governor to Jerry Brown, who had raised $40,556,608 from various sources.

Endorsements may play less of a role in the reelection campaigns of the four female governors, said Patricia Hart, a specialist in women and politics at Fair Vote: the Center for Voting and Democracy, a Takoma Park, Md., nonprofit focused on electoral reform and voting rights.

"All three of the Republican women seeking reelection received backing from Sarah Palin (former governor of Alaska and the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee) when she was arguably at the height of her popularity in 2010 during the Tea Party movement," said Hart.

Palin's endorsement was particularly helpful to Haley, an underdog, Hart said. This time around Palin's endorsement may not be so helpful, especially for vulnerable incumbents like Haley.

Page Gardner, president of the Washington-based Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund, predicted in a phone interview that the three female Republican governors seeking reelection will face many questions about their handling of the economy during their campaigns.

"They were part of the wave of Republicans who were elected governor in 2010 because of voter concern over the Obama administration's handling of the economy following the 2008 recession, the worst since the Great Depression of 1929," said Gardner, who founded Women's Voices in 2005 to increase voter participation of unmarried women. "Now voters will want to know what these governors did to improve the plight of residents in the state who were harmed by the downturn."

Although the recession officially ended in 2009, Gardner said women are still struggling. "Poverty is rampant among single parents," she said.

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