In 2006, five women governors – two Republicans and three Democrats – ran for re-election. This is an unprecedented achievement for American women. Four of the governors led their races comfortably from beginning to end. Only one started her race with a significant challenge, but she navigated the challenge artfully and won re-election.
These women succeeded in avoiding serious opposition or overcoming opposition because they were “operational.” They performed well in their jobs, planned for their re-election campaigns, raised money, reassembled their 2002 winning teams, and communicated their achievements and vision clearly and memorably.
And while the women governors made it look easy, all but one non- incumbent failed, in part, because they did not fully incorporate the following campaign fundamentals. In evaluating their own candidates, consultants and staff for non-incumbents consistently scored them high on substantive knowledge of the issues and their states, but low on political skill and execution. Consultants and staff for incumbent governors scored their bosses high on both.
Successful incumbent campaigns shared these common attributes:
- A written strategic plan
- Regular communication among the team
- Excellent relationships with key constituencies
- A finance goal and a plan to achieve it
- Control of their state parties and coordinated campaigns
- Strong volunteer base with women’s organizations
- Rapid response communications team
- Continuity of campaign staffs and consultants
Was there evidence even in 2002 that these women were on a path to success? Were there threads that wove through from those initial wins to these re-elections?
Two things stand out. From the beginning, each of these candidates conveyed confidence and did not shy away from displaying the ambition it takes to become governor. In addition, each woman planned ahead, developing the “internal machinery,” opinion-leader relationships, networks and party support required to win a contested gubernatorial race.
Second, as statewide elected officials, party and legislative leaders, they knew that substantive policy work was important. They got out from behind their desks and engaged with the public, developing an external network, as well. They learned that without a base of support from which to raise money and volunteers, no policies would ever get implemented. They are big thinkers.
As incumbent governors, they took charge of their state’s political party apparatus, first to secure their own re-elections, but then to assist others in state and federal contests. The command of their political parties underscored their overall authority and leadership.
Hawaii’s Linda Lingle worked with the Republican Party on “Get- out-the-vote” efforts and focused assistance on down ballot races. Kathleen Sebelius rallied her party to elect “new” Democrats – former moderate Republican legislators, who were estranged from their ultra- conservative colleagues and became Democrats.