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Break on through

If Gina Raimondo shatters the glass ceiling in the 2014 governor's race, it may be male voters who get her there
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  March 28, 2013

 Gina_top.jpg
CONFIDENT Raimondo vows to get things done. [Photo by Richard McCaffrey]

When I spoke with Treasurer Gina Raimondo this week, I opened with the obligatory question about whether she'll run for governor.

"I'm seriously considering it," she said. "But I think as you know — we've talked about it before — I have little kids: a six-year-old, an eight-year-old. I'm a mother. It's a big deal."

It was, on some level, a standard bit of deflection from a politician on the rise; no one seriously believes Raimondo — accomplished, ambitious, and possessed of an enormous war chest — will pass on next year's gubernatorial race.

But it's hard to imagine a similarly positioned man putting parenthood and his young children front-and-center in his public deliberations.

Indeed, Gina Raimondo's gubernatorial candidacy seems destined to be a deeply gendered affair, not least because of its history-making potential.

Rhode Island is one of just two New England states that's never seen a woman in the governor's office (Maine is the other). And it's the only state in the region that hasn't put a woman in either the governor's chair or the US Senate — a chamber many observers imagine as Raimondo's final destination.

That is, unless she lands in the Oval Office.

Yes, the expectations surrounding Raimondo are grand. And if she's well-positioned to vault through a glass ceiling or two, it may — oddly — be male voters who get her there.


IS RHODE ISLAND AN OUTLIER?

Given Rhode Island's dismal record of electing women to high office, you'd expect female politicos to engage in a good bit of kvetching about the state's old-boy network and cultural conservative streak.

But you'll find less of that than you might imagine.

Sure, voters have rejected the handful of women who ran for high office in recent decades: Myrth York, the thrice-defeated gubernatorial candidate, and Congressional candidates Kate Coyne-McCoy, Jennifer Lawless, and Betsy Dennigan.

But York can claim partial victories — winning the Democratic nomination three times. And many observers suggest her general election defeats owed more to strategic mistakes than a hot sexist streak in the Rhode Island electorate.

Coyne-McCoy, Lawless, and Dennigan, for their part, all lost to a man steeped in the advantages of incumbency. James Langevin was a well-liked Secretary of State when he beat Coyne-McCoy for a Congressional seat in 2000 and a well-established incumbent when he brushed off later challenges from Lawless and Dennigan.

"I'm not ready to conclude that there's something about [gender attitudes in] Rhode Island," says Lawless, now the director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University in Washington. The lesson from the three Congressional races, she said, might simply be "that Jim Langevin is tough to beat."

Indeed, a big-picture look suggests that Rhode Island isn't all that different than the country as a whole.

Women hold the mayoralties of just 12 of the nation's 100 largest cities. There are only five women governors nationwide. And while much has been made of the historic number of women in Washington this year — the New York Times recently ran a front-page feature on women's growing clout in the Senate — only about 20 percent of Congress is female.

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Related: Rough times for Raimondo; bottom-feeding in Newtown; remembering Ravi, A crowded field is gearing up to unseat Chafee, Schilling strikes out; war on women; the kids are all right, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Lincoln Chafee, Myrth York, Gina Raimondo,  More more >
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