NEW YORK – No woman has ever received a major party nomination for the presidency, but some have speculated that in 2008, not one, but two women could be competing for the White House.
In recent interviews, New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton (search) said she had “no intention” of running for president in 2008 -- but did not rule it out, leading many to believe a race is possible. And if the former first lady were to run, some say National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) would be the perfect Republican to pit against her.
“I’ve been speculating on that [match-up] for a year and half,” said GOP strategist Cheri Jacobus. “The greatest strength Hillary has is she’s a woman in what many consider a man’s world. If the GOP candidate were a woman as well, she’d have to run on merit, not on ‘I’m a woman hear me roar,’” Jacobus said.
Both women have plenty of merits. Born in Chicago on Oct. 26, 1947, Clinton grew up in Park Ridge, Ill., and is a 1973 graduate of Yale Law School. She worked as an attorney while her husband was governor of Arkansas, and performed the duties of the nation's first lady for eight years. On Nov. 7, 2000, Clinton became the first first lady to be elected to the U.S. Senate. She is also an advocate of women’s rights and public works projects for her state of New York.
Born Nov. 14, 1954, in segregation-era Birmingham, Ala., Rice got her Ph.D. from the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies in 1981. A former political science professor and provost of Stanford University, she was President George H.W. Bush’s adviser on Soviet affairs before becoming the current President Bush’s national security adviser.
On the issues, Hillary is regarded by many as a liberal who tried and failed to nationalize health care.
“The worst thing the Democrats can do is to nominate Hillary. She’s so far to the left that the center would be turned off,” said Republican strategist Paul Pelletier.
While Rice is hawkish on foreign policy, her stance on other issues doesn't necessarily fall into line. In 1999, she described herself to the San Francisco Chronicle as a "pro-choice evangelical.” Later that year, in an interview with National Review, she told the magazine she was "mildly pro-choice."
This latter position would lead "single-issue" abortion voters to lean toward Clinton, speculated Democratic strategist Scott Segal.
“Single-issue voters are not interested in someone who mildly holds a position, who would put limitations on it,” Segal said.
Jacobus added that Rice’s pro-choice position could help her against Clinton, but could hurt her in the GOP primary.
Democratic strategist and former Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway said Rice's gender would be a big bonus for the Republicans in a race against Clinton, but added that he doesn’t think a contest between the two females would focus on topics like abortion and family leave.
“I don’t think a campaign between two women would turn much on women’s issues. It would turn on who has a better vision for the country, on who would better lead the world’s only superpower.”
Pelletier, a former adviser to the first President Bush, agreed, saying women’s issues are among those that have been pushed to the back burner since Sept. 11.
“The war on terror and Iraq are front and center due to 9/11. Rice is a woman who successfully prosecuted this war, controlling the outcome of what our soldiers were doing in the field. That’s no small feat for a woman even in today’s society,” he said.
Rice, however, has never held elected office, and has never revealed an inclination to do so, said Segal.
“She’s primarily a creature of an academic office. There’s no proof she has the toughness or inclination to run. We don’t know anything about her position on most issues,” he said. “Hillary was first lady, has been active in campaigns. She had to fight the charge of carpetbaggerism, and defeated an ethnic New Yorker with long roots in his community,” he said.
But Pelletier feels Rice’s background is more impressive than Clinton’s.
“She pulled herself up by her boot straps, making herself somebody of incredibly high education. Hillary has ridden on the tails of her husband. There’s no way she’d be in the Senate without him,” he said.
As for the race card, experts speculate that a black Republican candidate like Rice could throw a wrench in the Democrats’ African-American support base.
“It would be a slight factor. Blacks do like the Democrats more — it’s a failing of the Republican Party,” Pelletier said.
However, Pelletier said the Democrats could easily shoot themselves in the foot on the issue.
“They would try to make Rice seem like an 'Uncle Tom' or not a real black, like they have with [Secretary of State] Colin Powell. This could be perceived as racism,” he said.
Hattaway said the fact that Rice is black would force African-American voters to take a closer look than usual at the GOP candidate.
“It’s a big bonus for the Republicans. That said, African-American voters are not going to be won over that easily. They didn’t rally around Clarence Thomas (search) just because he’s black,” he said.
But in Jacobus' mind, there would be "no contest" between the two women.
"I think Condi would beat Hillary handily," she said.