A Woman on the Democratic Ticket, But Maybe Not Hillary

In a recent interview, Hillary Clinton said she hoped to see a woman president in her lifetime. So do many other Democratic women, some of whom are hoping Sen. Hillary Clinton will be that woman, and some of whom are terribly worried that she may not be.

That is one of the reasons a group of senior Democratic women, yours truly included, are getting ready to launch “Plan B.”

The idea behind Plan B is simple. Hillary is Plan A.

But Hillary is not the only woman in the Democratic Party capable of taking her place on a national ticket. If Hillary is not the nominee, the last thing women will be satisfied with is a two man ticket, particularly with the Republicans meeting a month later and potentially nominating Condi Rice for the Number 2 slot.

But who you ask? Who other than Hillary could be on a national ticket?

Most people don’t know. With Hillary attracting so much attention (not that she doesn’t deserve it), other women end up in the shadows. With Hillary the focus of media, money, staff and celebrities, the danger is that when 2008 rolls around, we’ll hear the same old whine: they’re just aren’t any women qualified to be on the list.

In fact, there hasn’t been a woman on the short list for VP on the Democratic side (I don’t know the Republican side well enough to say) since 1984.

What made 1984 different, at least in the first instance, was the “A Team.” A group of us decided that when it came time for vice presidential selection, we would make sure that there were qualified women to choose from. We focused our efforts on a little known third-term Congresswoman from Queens, who was widely respected for her role in the Democratic leadership, but totally unknown outside her district.

I was brought in to serve as her top aide in running the Democratic Platform Committee. Others managed operations from her House office. We organized receptions and press events, briefings and hearings, around the country. What a proud moment it was when Geraldine Ferraro stood up to accept the Democratic nomination for vice president of the United States. We know how to do it. We can do it again. And this time it is so much easier. Because this time, we have GOVERNORS.

Where do both parties tend to look for leaders, presidents especially? Easy question. They look to governors. And just for starters, two of the most outstanding governors in the country are women you’ve probably never heard of, but will, thanks to Plan B.

There is, for starters, Janet Napolitano in Arizona, who combines compassion, toughness and fiscal responsibility, exactly the package Democrats need, who inherited a billion dollar deficit and managed to eliminate it without raising taxes or cutting education; who has phased in all-day kindergarten, taken a tough stand on border enforcement; totally reformed the state agency dealing with abused children; restored integrity to the governor’s office; and compiled a record which makes her a virtual shoo-in for re-election in November.

And, she is the governor of John McCain’s home state, which is just a little bit delicious. A former U.S. Attorney and attorney general, she suffers from none of the usual stereotypes of being “weak” or “not tough enough” that often plague women candidates. She also happens to be the first women to chair the National Governors Association. Prior chairs include a fellow from Arkansas, who used the NGA as one of his qualifications for running for president.

Or consider the popular governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, who served four terms in the Kansas legislature and two terms as insurance commissioner before being elected governor, and was named one of Time magazine's most effective governors for her successes in restoring fiscal balance and improving education.

And did I mention that her father, John Gilligan, was the former governor of Ohio? Yes, our favorite state of Ohio.

Either of these women is as qualified as George Bush was when he ran for president, much less qualified to be vice president. But neither of them have national constituencies. Yet. They will. We’ll make sure of it.

The critical thing is that women are both planning ahead and planning for contingencies. Hillary may or may not run; I think she will, but not everyone agrees with me.

Hillary may or may not win the nomination; I think she will, but there are any number of scenarios in which she could lose one or two early contests, an anti-Hillary movement could develop, and someone else could take off.

Almost no one sees Hillary herself in the number two slot. But far from leaving us bereft of good female choices, the fact is that we have many —if we’re prepared. And this time, as in 1984, we will be.

The only difference is, this time, we really want to make history. By winning.

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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