Will the US pick a woman veep?

by Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad

ONE day last year, while shopping at a Manhattan boutique, I recognised among the not-too-many shoppers at that time of the day, a well- groomed Geraldine Ferraro. She was, I believe, choosing Christmas presents, like I was.

I alerted my youngest son Fuad who was visiting from London that we had a VIP in the store. "Ferraro who?" Fuad asked quietly as his custom. For a regular rugby player for his club in London he speaks so softly that sometimes I find it difficult to hear him.

Geraldine Ferraro, an Italian American politician, was on Walter Mondale's ill-fated ticket in 1984 when both were trounced by Ronald Reagan and George Bush. I was at that time a Fellow at Harvard University's Centre for International Affairs and saw a bit of the campaign. Ferraro made American history when she became the first woman to run for vice president. She is now betting that a Republican will follow her footsteps this year - and she likes the idea even though she is a Democrat.

Ferraro told Deborah Orin (New York Post - Tuesday, February 8): "The thing about it is that I had a unique opportunity to be the first, but I am kind of tired being the only one." She does not see much chance of a Democratic woman veep in 2000 because "I haven't heard any one say this is really what I want to do".

Many share the view that Elizabeth Dole could be George W. Bush's running mate if she can overcome Bob Dole's baggage. Bob Dole was the Republican Party's Walter Mondale in the 1996 election against Bill Clinton. Elizabeth Dole is a credible choice if Bush wins the Republican nomination and needs a woman veep. She has visibility and is regarded as an effective and honourable politician and campaigner.

However, there may be an upset outcome. Vietnam war hero, Senator John McCain, could well beat Bush, the Republican front runner and favourite. If that happens, another surprise can be that he selects a lady, on his ticket.

And who could that be? She is Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a defence expert who hails from Texas. The Constitution bars her from running with Bush, who is also from Texas, but she appears to be the perfect choice for McCain.

According to Ferraro:"...... if McCain wins the nomination, it's a problem for our (Democratic) party. If he puts a woman on the ticket he'd be even stronger."

The Reform Party could also pick a woman and it could be anyone. Well, Donald Trump wants Oprah Winfrey as his running mate. Winter, in the presidential election year, is the season for guessing or noting who is running for what office and where in the US. Last Sunday, First Lady Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, in a Hollywood style gala with husband President Clinton and only child Chelsea sitting nearby, confirmed she would run for Senate from New York in November. President Clinton did not speak, his silent role fitting in well with a plan to present his wife as someone with her own identity, as a lawyer and child advocate who, nonetheless, will carry on his political cause. I had always thought she would run and I am glad I ha have put my money in the right place. There were so many experts who said they did not think she would really run.

The New York Times enthused: "Hillary started her candidacy with a polished speech designed to reintroduce her to New Yorkers as a capable campaigner. Her confident delivery struck a sharp contrast with the gaffes of last fall. Hillary will get good reviews for this political performance, which probably explains why Mayor Rudolf Giuliani's (her likely Republican opponent in the Senate race) campaign immediately attacked the "Hollywood" staging of the event. Hillary hit the carpetbagger question head on: "I may be new to the neighbourhood but I am not new to your concerns."

The same Sunday of Hillary's announcement, in Jean Georges Restaurant in Central Park West, I had dinner with a young Malaysian with a degree in marketing who wants to make big money in New York. We had a grand time. He did not believe he had eaten foie gras in the Jean George manner anywhere in Kuala Lumpur, Bangsar or in Perth, Australia, where he went to university. As we talked. I found what he said surprised me. Unlike many young Malaysian Chinese, he has a very positive view of his country, its future and his role in it. I had met the young man at Harvard during my speaking engagement there last month.

We then talked about American politics. He said (and I agreed) that Hillary's decision and her immense need for campaign money to beat the well-oiled Mayor of New York, perhaps to the tune of US$40 million to US$50 million, would under cut vice president Al Gore's campaign dollar chase. Besides, Al Gore now has also to compete with Hillary for the hearts and minds of the New York Democrats, especially the powerful and crucial New York Labour and Liberal vote. The Labour constituency, in particular, because the unions have the financial muscle and the get-out- the- vote organisations. And the more liberal, charismatic and attractive Hillary will pull in all the resources. Although Hillary is the second-tier candidate (Senate seat) and Al Gore is running for the White House don't forget that she is a Clinton. Many people believe Hillary will have the last say and there is no question there will be a lot of tension between the two between now and November.

Al Gore, despite the occasional political blunder, has generally been on target in his campaign for the White House, and, after a series of "makeovers", is a lot more appealing. He is now focusing on what works. He has a sizeable lead nationally over Senator Bill Bradley which he must sustain. As the campaign progresses, it won't be surprising in New York if Hillary and Al Gore keep stepping on each other's toes.

As far as I can determine, after the primaries - Iowa, New Hampshire and Delaware - the expected presidential clash between vice president Al Gore and Texas governor Bush has become more probable. However, it is too early for them to rejoice in the political demise of their rivals Senator Bill Bradley and Senator John McCain, both of whom are campaigning very hard as the "do or die" March 7 primary battles loom in several states. Bradley, especially, must win to stay in the race against Al Gore and further big wins for McCain will jump-start his battle against the formidable and cash-rich Bush who has the Republican Party's backing.

In the first contest after his bruising defeat in New Hampshire twelve days ago, Bush handily won the Republican primary in Delaware. However, McCain, who won the primary in New Hampshire and did not campaign in Delaware to concentrate on South Carolina - a more important state - got a surprising 25 per cent. McCain is reported to be doing well in other states which will have primary pollings in early March,

Political miracles do happen, even in Malaysia although the "political miracle" so many, including some here in New York, expected last November did not materialise. In the case of Bradley and McCain, there are a few reasons not to lose hope yet.