Presidential candidate Bachmann poses challenges for male rivals
Summary from The New York Times, June 27, 2011
Republican representative Michele Bachmann entered the US presidential race on Monday, offering another chance to test the impact of gender on American politics.
For the second time in four years, American voters will watch as a mostly male field of candidates engages, sometimes awkwardly and sometimes gingerly, with a female presidential candidate.
Like Hillary Clinton before her, Bachmann will dare journalists and bloggers to cover her campaign the way they would cover a male candidate’s.
And she will put before voters the ultimate question they ducked in 2008: Are they ready for a female president?
But the real challenge for Bachmann’s rivals, according to political strategists in both parties, is in finding ways to disagree with her without making subtle references to her gender.
“They need to respect her gender but ignore it,” said Kellyanne Conway, a pollster for Republican candidates and conservative causes.
“What happens is in unguarded moments, if you are rolling your eyes or are chuckling when a woman says something; it’s often taken as you are chuckling at their intelligence.”
Anita Dunn, who served as President Obama’s communications director, agreed. She said the men in the Republican field (and, eventually, president Obama, if Bachmann becomes the nominee) have to figure out how to “attack a woman” without allowing the criticism to turn into what she called a gender slight.
“The challenge is to disagree without crossing into an area where you sound condescending, patronizing or nasty.”
As it stands, the gender issue could benefit Bachmann by forcing her male rivals to hold back a bit, and by serving as one more political land mine on the campaign battlefield.
“Do I think she will face questions that a man won’t face? Absolutely,” said Jen Bluestein, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List, a liberal group that advocates for the election of like-minded women.
“Some of them will be infuriating and potentially hurtful to her. And some of them could be almost positive.”
It is far from certain that Bachmann will serve as a trailblazer for other women candidates during the 2012 campaign – that will largely depend on how she does during the next several months and ultimately how her candidacy fares.
However, at the very least, the country and her male rivals may get more accustomed to seeing a woman on the presidential stage.