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New-female-face to counter scandal?

By Godfrey Sperling / January 12, 1999



I've told the story before, how in the 1950s I ran an informal poll in which, over several months, I asked parents if they wanted their boy to become president when he grew up. The answer was invariably: "I don't want my boy to go into politics - because politics is dirty." Today, of course, I wouldn't dare put the question that way. I'd ask if they wanted their boy or girl to become president. But I'm certain I'd get the same answer. Public disgust over politics and politicians is - arguably - at an all-time high. I should note, too, that not too many years ago it would have been foolish for me to ask if parents had presidential expectations for their daughter. But that ended when Geraldine Ferraro became a vice presidential candidate. And now Elizabeth Dole is expressing presidential aspirations. In my early years as a roving reporter, I covered a number of scandals at state and local levels as I traveled around the country. Then over the last 30 years I've had a front-row seat at many scandals, big and small - the biggest, of course, bearing the names of Watergate and, now, Lewinskygate. These scandals always stirred public unhappiness, sometimes anger. And they've led Americans to put "politicians" at the bottom when asked what professions they trust the most. But I've never found cynicism among these scandal-beset Americans. They continue to hope for the better; they continue to look for leaders who inspire this hope. This continuing search for "something better" is reflected in the way the public will welcome a "new face." We could see this in the election of Jesse Ventura as Minnesota's new governor. The voters liked what they saw as his straight talk and his independence from political pressures. Let's not forget that Ross Perot had that fresh, newcomer appeal for quite a while. There was one point in the 1992 presidential race when the polls showed him rising above both George Bush and Bill Clinton. It didn't last. But it did happen - for one brief moment just before the national conventions. Furthermore, there are observers who think that if Perot had "played his cards" better and not dropped out of the contest and then back in, he might've been the ultimate winner. Colin Powell had that "fresh-face" appeal, too, four years ago. Republican leaders all around the US were trying to bring Mr. Powell into the race for the presidency. But he said "no." Even now I think a Powell candidacy would, immediately, take off - with a solid chance of succeeding. And now there's Mrs. Dole. A woman as a presidential nominee? It would be a first for a major party. Would it have some of the Jesse Ventura appeal? It might. But could she win? There are a lot of "ifs" here. She hasn't quite said she would be running. And one has to wonder how she'd fare in the primaries among so many other candidates and against Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who seems to have grabbed a firm hold on the lead. Indeed, a realistic scenario for Dole would be for her to do well in the primaries - ending with a few seconds and showing her appeal to women - and finish in the second spot on a Bush-Dole ticket. That would put her even with Mrs. Ferraro. And if the ticket won: Well, that would be a big first for women - a big step toward the presidency. But, hey, hold up a minute! Maybe Dole would go all the way this time. In politics - as they say - anything can happen.

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