For Campaign Management Jobs, Women Need Not Apply
There are only two women managing presidential campaigns this year. It's tradition.
John Kasich and Mike Huckabee are heroes of gender equality—at least by one metric. Neither of them are currently polling above 3 percent with women, and they’re not necessarily known for their strong records supporting women’s rights. But they can boast one thing that no other campaigning presidential hopefuls can: female campaign managers.
Unless one of them wins the Republican nomination at the presidential primaries (not going to happen, see their atrocious showing in recent polls) the 2016 GOP presidential candidate will continue a long-standing party’s tradition: all-male campaign managers in the final stages of presidential elections. Even as two women battle it out among the presidential contenders, behind the scenes, it seems the menfolk largely don’t trust women to run and win their campaigns.
A lack of female representation in political campaigns is nothing new. In 1988, Susan Estrich became the first female campaign manager on a presidential campaign that made it past the conventions when she was hired to run Democrat Michael Dukakis’ bid for president. (Notably, Estrich wasn’t Dukakis’ original choice, as she took the job only after John Sasso resigned following a campaign scandal.) In the six presidential races since then, only two Democratic nominees have had women serving at the helm of campaigns. Neither won.
Further, the electioneering gender divide doesn’t just apply to major presidential campaigns—the National Journal looked at key Senate races in 2014 and found that only six percent of GOP campaigns had female managers, while almost 40 percent of the Democratic campaigns were led by women.
In conducting research for her book “Navigating Gendered Terrain,” Rutgers Political Science professor Kelly Dittmar found similar findings in surveying political consultants from top firms working on senatorial and gubernatorial races in 2010 and 2011—about 75 percent of consultants with strategic influence were male, with a higher number of women working on Democratic campaigns than Republican ones.
Though a campaign manager isn’t the sole voice behind any political campaign, there’s no question that it has been traditionally considered among the most important. Furthermore, female representation in political campaigns lags all around. In an article on the topic, Mitt Romney’s former deputy campaign said she found the absence of senior-level women across the board more disturbing. In 2011, political campaign veteran Yashar Ali mirrored that opinion in an op-ed that decried both parties’ traditional hiring practices and an overall lack of women operating behind the scenes. Dittmar, who writes for Presidential Gender Watch 2016, agrees that this widespread divide matters.
“It’s parallel to the question we ask about women in office: ‘Why do we care that we have women candidates?’ or, ‘Why do we care if we have women in elected office?'” Ditmar said. “Beyond the simple democratic value of that, there is a substantive value of women’s experiences and perspectives informing the process and the policy. [In terms of campaigns,] women need to be looking at and analyzing and making recommendations about the messages that are going to go out there to other women. There’s value to having that perspective in a campaign.”
Likewise, Jess McIntosh of Emily’s List, a PAC for pro-choice Democratic female candidates, agreed that including women in campaigns is a practical maneuver. “By having women in leadership roles in your campaign, you’re going to have more needed perspective about messaging, reaching voters, all of it,” she told Vocativ in an e-mail. “And since women voters decide every election, being able to communicate with them as well as possible is obviously just a smart strategy.”
It’s a strategy the Democrats seem to have taken heed of in recent years. In 2012, Obama advisors Valerie Jarrett and Stephanie Cutter were counted among the most vital voices within the president’s inner circle in the 2012 election year, and while the spouses of presidential candidates have long played a role on the campaign trail, Michelle Obama was an exceptionally present figure in 2012, raising millions of dollars through dozens of fundraisers. This year, lots of attention has gone to Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Huma Abedin, although admittedly some of her profile can be accounted for by her husband’s very public indiscretions.
Republicans, however, seem a little slow on the uptake, despite the fact that Jeb Bush has the highest percentage of female advisors. Rand Paul’s campaign, for instance, has two male advisors named Steve, but no women, according to Balletopedia. Similarly, Marco Rubio’s crew features twice as many men named Mark as women overall.
“There no doubt that in this campaign—in every campaign, but particularly this campaign—having those insights on how to appeal to diverse groups of voters [and] how to engage with female opponents, is going to be very important,” Dittmar said. “It seems pretty smart for folks to not only consider having diversity in the role of campaign manager, but among their top strategic advisors.”
Which brings us back to Mr. Kasich and Mr. Huckabee, who, with their female campaign managers, appear to have seen the light, even if they’re far from fully illuminated. Both have been criticized for their policies towards women’s healthcare, with Kasich having overseen massive shutdowns of Ohio abortion providers during his time as governor and passing a 2013 budget that defunded Planned Parenthood while mandating ultrasounds. He also has a documented history of disparaging women, from fellow candidate’s wives to victims of sexual assault to Hispanic women. His campaign is headed by D.C. veteran Beth Hansen, who sidestepped an Elle Magazine question about her loyalty to the Republican Party despite its “reputation for being unfriendly to women,” by citing her conservative philosophy and belief “that government should do less and people should be allowed to do more for themselves.”
Huckabee has also raised red flags by supporting the Paraguayan government’s decision to deny an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim. He also famously stood by Missouri Congressman Todd Akin’s statements on “legitimate rape” and argued against state support for birth control. Notably, Huckabee’s campaign manager Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who also happens to be his daughter, is the only woman among his top advisors.
So, yeah. We’re not there yet.