The Rules for Male Candidates

The Rules for Male Candidates

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Get the little woman on board.

Remember, gentlemen! Your better half, is, well, your better half. Use her. Plus, she can say stuff about a female opponent that you can't. (See: the Silver Fox, under Rules for Female Candidates.)

Men wishing to disable a female opponent's popularity with the female electorate can also do as Jim Talent did when he was running for reelection to the Senate in Missouri against Claire McCaskill. He put together a group of "Women for Talent." (He lost, though.) Rick Lazio, in his 2000 run for the New York Senate against Clinton, similarly started going to women-centered events.

He lost, too. For reasons we'll explore in our next rule . . .

Don't do anything that seems, um, physically intimidating.

This one's pretty big. When Lazio approached Clinton during a 2000 debate with a pledge to ban soft money ("Why don't you just sign it?"), he got a rap as a bully. There are those who say that if he'd done that to a man, the move would not have seemed like bullying. There are others who believe that Lazio would never have done that to a man -- that the invasion of Clinton's personal space was sexist.

In either interpretation, Lazio loses.

Similarly inappropriate: when George H.W. Bush bragged about his performance against Geraldine Ferraro in the 1984 vice presidential debate, apparently unaware he was near a microphone. "We tried to kick a little ass last night," he said.

Politics may be rough and tumble, but there is still an expectation that men show female opponents "good manners," says political scientist Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida at Tampa. Or they risk being "unbecoming."

Speaking of which . . .

To attack or not to attack?

This may be the most complicated issue. How to attack without seeming condescending? How to attack without making women in the audience recall the time when they were the only woman at a board table? And in a situation like the Democrats face this year, does the mere specter of a woman being criticized by several men make female voters feel protective of her?

Or not?

"We've known for years the difficulty that male candidates have in running against strong female candidates and even the public sends mixed messages about what's appropriate for a campaign against a woman," MacManus says. She calls the 2008 presidential race a "convergence" election in which "the realities of today's culture are colliding with expectation of the past."

"I've run into more Republican men who are scared to death to run against a woman," GOP strategist Kellyanne Conway says. Some clients have cut back on debates to avoid confrontations, Conway says. As for others, "I've had some people have their wife do the ads."

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