Geraldine Ferraro: A Break with Tradition

In need of a political lift, Mondale picks a woman running mate

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As if acknowledging the strangeness of her accent, Ferraro commented that those constituents "are not alone; you know people just like them." Finally, she voiced an appreciation of her unprecedented role as a woman on the ticket: "There's an electricity in the air, an excitement, a sense of new possibilities and of pride." Then came the standard campaign scene of the two candidates waving from the rostrum surrounded by members of their families, but this time with a striking twist: Ferraro's husband joined the crowd on the podium in the role of smiling, adoring spouse.

Despite that polished performance, Ferraro has drawbacks. Her lack of national experience, especially in foreign policy, offers a target to Republicans, who will contrast it with the impressive résumé of Vice President George Bush. Ferraro's supporters retort that the foreign policy credentials of such Republican choices as William Miller in 1964 and Spiro Agnew in 1968 were next to invisible.

In any case, the immediate reaction to the announcement of Ferraro's selection was quick, voluminous and largely favorable. Even before the candidates spoke in St. Paul, Mondale's aides were polling Democratic convention delegates and party contributors; after the announcement, calls streamed in from state and party leaders all over the country. The response startled Mondale's assistants. Said one: "The men who participated in this decision, including Mondale, had no idea how popular it would be."

Feminists were agog. Many, even political activists, interpreted the news in intensely personal terms. Said Ann Richards, State Treasurer of Texas: "The first thing I thought of was not winning, in the political sense, but of my two daughters. To think of the numbers of young women who can now aspire to anything!" At a National Organization for Women press conference in Washington, Democratic Leader Sharon Pratt Dixon was so carried away that she started to pronounce the name of the head of the ticket as "Walter Ferra..." She corrected it to Walter Mondale amid a gale of laughter.

Politically, the prevailing opinion is that the choice will add verve and flair to the campaign. "The idea of that new ingredient, the mysterious factor of the female vote, makes Ferraro a high-risk, high-gain pick," asserted Democratic Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado. Republicans agree, in a kind of left-handed way. Colorado Republican Chairman Howard ("Bo") Callaway, once a campaign manager for Gerald Ford, called the selection of Ferraro "the first excitement, the first non-mush I've seen in Mondale's political career."

Beyond that, only one prediction seems safe: Ferraro will be scrutinized, written about, pictured on TV, quizzed at news conferences, debated over living-room tables more than any vice-presidential candidate in decades—if not ever. Indeed, says California Pollster Mervin Field, "apart from a movie star, she will be covered more than any other woman."

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