With the 2016 presidential election still two years away, many commentators are already deeming Hillary Clinton the anointed Democratic candidate. Her biggest potential challenger appears to be Elizabeth Warren, a more liberal, progressive politician who, despite claiming she will not run, is being pushed to mount a campaign by many liberal flanks of the party.
While a lot could change in the ensuing two years, the gender politics of this potential match-up are incredible. No woman has ever captured the presidential nomination for a major party in the United States. Clinton came the closest in 2008 against Barack Obama, but fell short in a long and brutal primary campaign. The fact that the two most highly touted potential candidates are both women is somewhat revolutionary.
These advancements at the national level belie a bigger problem at the state level. Women still lag far behind men in achieving elected positions across the U.S.
New York, where Clinton served as senator, is a particularly interesting and paradoxical case. Historically, it ranks second in sending the highest number of female representatives to Congress. But, New York is tied with Florida for the third largest number of seats in Congress, which means the potential to send female candidates has also been much greater.
Just 35 women have served as governor in the United States, and they come from only 23 states — less than half.
Not all of the women were elected, however; four became governor through succession and one only served as acting governor for a week in New Hampshire between the death of one governor and the inauguration of his successor in 1983. That leaves only 30 women who have actually been elected to the highest office in their state. Currently, only 5 out of the 50 governors are women.
How does New York fall into this? Despite its record with sending women to Congress, it has never had a female governor.
In some ways, the lack of a female governor is surprising considering New York’s deep history with the women’s suffrage movement.
The first women’s rights convention in the country took place in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. New Yorker Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the first woman to ever run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1866 (she received only 24 of 12,000 votes cast). The state also elected the first black and Puerto Rican women to ever serve in Congress in 1980 and 1992, respectively.
Despite these historically poignant moments though, New York politics is still, in many ways, an “Old Boys Club.” Not only has a woman never served as governor, but there has also never been a female mayor of New York City — the two most powerful positions in the state.
Democratic bosses and the region’s demography — blue-collar and heavily Catholic — have had a negative impact on the possibility of a woman getting elected in the region.
Zephyr Teachout is hoping to change this.
Teachout is running as the more liberal candidate, dedicated to “traditional democratic values” against Governor Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.
However, she is not running on a platform of gender politics.
While she says it is “about time to have a female governor of the state,” she does not have strong ties with many of the prominent women’s organizations in New York. Emily’s List, for example, recently announced its 2014 endorsements for the state, and while the organization is backing 4 prominent Democratic candidates for state Senate, Teachout was not on the list.
In an interview for IVN, Teachout said she is not running an endorsement-based campaign, and instead is focused on engaging citizens at a grassroots level.
However, her campaign recently came out strongly against Cuomo’s plan to create a Women’s Equality Party. Teachout explained that Cuomo is spending a “quarter of a million dollars to get his name on the ballot next to the words ‘women’s equality.’”
“Last time I checked, the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for women’s equality,” she commented in an interview for the New York Daily News. “We don’t need a new ‘party’ for women’s equality. We need a new governor with traditional Democratic values.”
Teachout is hoping to be that person — and make history by being the first woman elected governor in New York. As much of a Democratic stronghold as New York is, all Teachout needs to do is beat the incumbent in the primary. However, that will be a tall hurdle to clear.
Debbie Sharnak is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a focus on Latin America and international relations. Her work examines the origins and evolution of human rights. She is currently a Fulbright Scholar in Uruguay.
This article first appeared in IVN.us. Click here to go to the original.