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Michelle Bachmann confronts familiar hurdles for female candidates

June 27, 2011|By Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times
  • Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., waves to supporters before making her formal announcement to seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination in Waterloo, Iowa.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., waves to supporters before making her… (Charlie Neibergall / Associated…)

After a confrontation with Fox News host Chris Wallace, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who on Monday again announced her bid for theGOP nomination for president, finds herself facing the same problem that many other female candidates have had to face: how to be taken seriously and overcome what many see as the built-in sexism of the media.

Bachmann is a three-term Republican congresswoman from Minnesota who has recently politically surged. She is now running neck-and-neck withGOP front-runner, formerMassachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the Iowa polls.

Bachmann has had her share of gaffes, for example, recently telling New Hampshire voters: "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord." That 1775 battle was fought inMassachusetts.

Photos: Potential 2012 GOP candidates

On Sunday, as part of the run-up to Monday’s announcement, she appeared on Fox, usually a safe place for conservative Republicans.

“Are you a flake?” asked Wallace, the host of "Fox News Sunday."

“I think that would be insulting to say something like that because I'm a serious person,” Bachmann said.

“I'm 55 years old. I've been married 33 years,” Bachmann said. “I'm not only a lawyer, I have a post-doctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary. I've worked in serious scholarship. … My husband and I have raised five kids, we've raised 23 foster children. We've applied ourselves to education reform. We started a charter school for at-risk kids. I've also been a state senator and member of the United States Congress for five years.”

“Do you recognize that now that you are in the spotlight in a way that you weren't before that you have to be careful,” Wallace came back.

“Of course a person has to be careful with the statements they make,” replied Bachmann. “I think now will be an opportunity to speak fully on the issues. I look forward to that.”

Wallace later apologized for the flake question.

Bachmann is hardly the first female candidate to have problems with the media. It is a situation that crosses political parties and campaigns.

In the last election cycle, associates of both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin complained that their candidates had to face questions that no male candidate would have to hear. Would anyone question what a male candidate was wearing or whether he was too sexy to be commander in chief? According to a 2008 study done for the Daily Beast, 61% of women thought the media were biased against woman. Half of the women thought Clinton was treated unfairly and more than 70% thought Palin was wronged during the election.

Clinton’s problems began early as the media portrayed her as unapproachable. That continued until she won the New Hampshire primary and cried, showing she was human after all.

Gender stereotypes have cut both ways over the years. Tears shed by Sen. Edmund Muskie in 1972 in New Hampshire effectively ended his presidential campaign by raising questions of whether he was tough enough.

Still, some things may be changing. According to a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey released Monday, voters say they are more willing than ever to elect a woman president, and most think there’s a good chance a woman will win the White House in the next 10 years.

According to the firm. 82% of likely U.S. voters said they would vote for a woman for president and 9% said they would not.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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