Cracking the Code (2002)

“In planning and launching a gubernatorial race, it’s an incredible advantage to know the unique challenges that women have faced in past elections. Cracking the Code will help women candidates in the current cycle know where they’ll be challenged and how to win.”
– Governor Jennifer Granholm

“Campaigns are full of uncertainties, and the key to winning the race is to anticipate and prepare for as many of them as possible. That’s where Cracking the Code comes in. It’s an invaluable guide for women candidates, as it prepares them for the variables of the campaign ahead.”
– Governor Kathleen Sebelius

“Keys to the Governor’s Office and this successor guide Cracking the Code are fantastic resources. Together, they provide critical guidance and insight to women candidates and map out key strategies for winning tough races.”
– Governor Janet Napolitano

Over the past three election cycles, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation has commissioned research to identify the roadblocks faced by women running for governor and to develop strategies for candidates to overcome them. In two previous guides, Keys to the Governor’s Office. Unlock the Door: The Guide for Women Running for Governor, and Speaking With Authority: From Economic Security to National Security, the Foundation published research and analyses compiled from a national survey, focus groups, exit poll data, and interviews with candidates, their staff and consultants. This is the third guide in that series.

The goal of this third report, based on data from the 2002 election cycle, is to track continuing trends, identify new challenges, analyze strategies that work and those that do not, and provide recommendations based on successful practices of winning candidates.

Our research revealed that gender is now more a strategic consideration for campaigns than a rallying cry for equality or a basis for mobilizing women voters. In the 2002 races, the campaigns for women presumed gender to be a consideration in creating a campaign strategy, not a theme for persuading voters.

We discovered that women were able to use their titles and accomplishments from previously held statewide office effectively to show voters the kind of authority they would wield as chief executive. These women set the stage for successful candidacies by addressing potential questions from voters about preparation, accomplishment and decisiveness before they were ever raised in the gubernatorial contest.

Our research also highlights two emerging areas of concern when voters consider a female candidate for governor: the man- ner in which female candidates present themselves and their campaign organizations, and the way female candidates perform when facing off against their opponents.

Our initial report, Keys to the Governor’s Office, discussed a number of barriers that prevent women from competing on an equal footing with men in gubernatorial contests. They include:

Executive Leadership: Given the few examples of women chief executives in the public and private sectors, women candidates for governor must be able to demonstrate successful executive experience in order to win voters’ confidence.

Preparation: Women need to provide more evidence than men of their financial and crisis management skills to persuade voters they are as “qualified” or “ready” to be governor.

Outsiders With Insider Connections: Women are presumed to be “outside” the harsh push and pull of politics, but they must have inside connections to mount statewide campaigns.

Outsiders With Insider Know-How: Women are expected to be “honest,” but in voters’ minds, that raises the question: Can they make the necessary deals?

Management Style – Collaborative or Decisive: Voters ask: Is a woman who builds consensus by having an inclusive style able to make the solitary executive decisions required of a governor?

Leadership Style – Tough, But Caring: Women must walk the line between seeming “tough enough” but not “too tough,” and com- passionate but not weak.

Family Matters: Voters are curious and make assumptions about women candidates and their families. They wonder about who comes first, the candidate’s family or the public, and how she will juggle both.

“I just hope that it is boring one day that a woman is a governor. I hope that breaking a glass ceiling means that somebody threw a rock through your sunroof.”
– Candidate

Our second guide, Speaking with Authority, focused specifically on issues of security—both national and personal—in the wake of September 11. There, we found that on issues of terrorism and military response, both men and women voters listen for male voices. In leadership, however, female gubernatorial candidates are persuasive when they talk about preparedness and keeping voters informed. In addition, we found that while one in five voters is looking for a candidate whose top priority is security and terrorism, half are looking for someone focused on economic and domestic issues. This bodes well for female candidates, who are competitive with male candidates on home-front issues and finances.

In this guide, we focus on three challenges:

Keeping Up Appearances: More Important Than You Think.
Personal qualities and performance often outweigh substantive issues with voters. The initial impression that a female candidate makes stays with voters longer and is less likely to change than voters’ impressions of a male candidate. These impressions are molded by the candidate’s personal presentation, style, confi- dence and communication skills, as well as the performance of the candidate’s campaign organization.

Performance Under Pressure: Grace and Grit Win. Voters are particularly attentive to moments in a campaign (i.e., press con- ferences or debates) when they might glimpse the “authentic,” unscripted candidate. A female candidate’s mistakes at these moments are more vivid and longer lasting than similar gaffes committed by male candidates.

Who’s the Boss?: Tell ‘em, Show ‘em. Tell ‘em Again. The research confirms that title and executive authority matter. For women candidates who hold the office of attorney general or mayor, the title helps reassure voters that they can “get the job done” as governor. Voters are even more confident in a statewide office holder who has exercised the power of her office, thereby demonstrating competence, authority and confidence.