Star power

July 19, 2004

YOU'VE GOT to feel a little sorry for John Kerry. The cerebral, reserved, flannel-mouth Massachusetts Democrat is in danger of being upstaged at his own presidential nominating convention.

Competition is coming from multiple directions: the larger-than-life former president, Bill Clinton; veep-nominee-to-be John Edwards, widely considered to possess a far more electric persona than his ticket-mate; and most challenging of all, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady and current New York senator, an attraction so powerful one operative compared her to "a planet so big it pulls its star out of orbit."

As a top party fund-raiser, one of the most admired women in America and everybody's easy bet to make a presidential run someday herself, she's practically an obsession for critics as well as admirers.

Mrs. Clinton was the only one of the mega-celebrities not chosen for a prime-time role at the convention -- partly by her own design. But the uproar was so huge, a spot for her had to be quickly found.

The furor highlighted the still minor role women are accorded in national politics, despite their equal ranks as voters.

Since Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York was nominated for vice president by the Democrats twenty years ago, no woman has run on a national ticket. When Barbara A. Mikulski was elected to the Senate in 1986, she became the only female Democrat in the chamber. The Marylander is now dean of women senators, who still number only 14, five of them Republicans.

Senator Mikulski was asked to speak on behalf of all her Democratic women colleagues in a prime-time convention kickoff, but her appearance wasn't mentioned when highlights of the agenda were released last week. Thus the slight of Mrs. Clinton morphed into a broader snub of women in general.

Now the schedule calls for Mrs. Clinton to introduce her husband.

At least that's one celebrity duel Mr. Kerry can safely escape.

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