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Women and politics

From NBC's Mark Murray
This week, in conjunction with the NBC/MSNBC focus on women in society and the workplace, First Read has taken a look at women and politics. Here's a round-up of what we have published so far.

*** The glass ceiling: The final barrier for female U.S. politicians is now the presidency. It's not just the fact that there has not been a woman president yet; it's the fact that there have been so few women presidential CANDIDATES. Not only did it take the two major parties 24 years to see a woman make it on a national ticket (1984 to 2008), it's still not obvious any women will be serious candidates in 2012 or 2016. Sure, there's lots of speculation surrounding Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. But after them? (There was a dearth of women candidates for president between '84 and '08 as well, with Elizabeth Dole being the only serious candidate and she didn't make it to Iowa). One of the main reasons why we've had so few female presidential possibilities is because not enough women have become governors, which still remains the best stepping stone to the presidency. But this could change after 2010. If Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) wins the Texas governor's race, if Alex Sink (D) wins in Florida, and if Meg Whitman (R) wins in California, that could elevate both into the discussion for 2012 and beyond… And don't miss the "Meet the Press" discussion of Maria Shriver's report on "A Woman's Nation." 

*** Where things stand: According to Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, there are six female governors (Jan Brewer of AZ, Jodi Rell of CT, Linda Lingle of HI, Jennifer Granholm of MI, Bev Perdue of NC, and Chris Gregoire of WA), 17 women U.S. senators (Lisa Murkowski of AK, Blanche Lincoln of AR, Barbara Boxer of CA, Dianne Feinstein of CA, Mary Landrieu of LA, Susan Collins of ME, Olympia Snowe of ME, Barbara Mikulski of MD, Debbie Stabenow of MI, Amy Klobuchar of MN, Claire McCaskill of MO, Kay Hagan of NC, Jeanne Shaheen of NH, Kirsten Gillibrand of NY, Kay Bailey Hutchison of TX, Patty Murray of WA, and Maria Cantwell of WA), and there are 73 congresswoman.

*** The GOP's gender gap: In last year's presidential election, Obama won female voters by 13 percentage points (56%-43%), while he won the male vote by just one point (49%-48%). This year's Virginia race, which the Republican Bob McDonnell is leading, has emphasized women's issues. Democrat Creigh Deeds seized on a graduate thesis McDonnell wrote when he was 34 years old, in which the Republican, among other things, said that feminism and working women were "detrimental" to the American family. McDonnell has responded by pointing to his working daughters, including one who had served in Iraq. The Deeds campaign has hoped that the thesis story would hurt McDonnell among Virginia females, who make up about 54% of the state's electorate. So far, though, the gambit hasn't worked…

*** What women want: According to last month's NBC/WSJ poll, both men and women rank the economy as their top concern (56% of men and 55% of women had it as their No. 1 or No. 2 issue). But then there's a fascinating disparity: 46% of women rank health care as one of their top-two concerns, versus 34% of men who think that -- a 12-point difference. On the other hand, a combined 39% of men rank the deficit and spending as a top-two concern, versus 29% of women who do -- a 10-point difference. So women care more about health care than men do, while men are more concerned about the deficit and spending. What's more, women overall support Obama's health-care plans more than men do. Per last month's poll, women support Obama's plan by a 40%-38% margin. By comparison, men oppose it by a 44%-38% clip. So here's your battle of the sexes: Women are more inclined to be health-care voters, while men are deficit/spending voters. 

*** The women of 2010: We've mentioned the three women running for governor -- Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas, Alex Sink (D) of Florida, and Meg Whitman (R) of California -- who, if they win, could be presidential or vice-presidential possibilities in 2012 and 2016. But here are some other names to watch: Kelly Ayotte (running for the open Senate seat in New Hampshire), Robin Carnahan (running for the open Senate seat in Missouri), Jane Norton (running for Senate in Colorado), Sue Lowden (running to challenge Harry Reid in Nevada), and Mary Fallin (running for governor of Oklahoma). With the exception of Carnahan, all of these women will most likely face primaries next year. But if they win, they'll all become familiar names to political junkies next fall. And for the GOP, who have their best lineup of women running for Senate than they've had in years (perhaps ever), it's a BIG chance for them to diversify their image.