In the movie musical "My Fair Lady," when Professor Henry Higgins sings "Why can't a woman be more like a man," everyone thinks he's a pompous, sexist fool.
Wayne Owens is no fool. But this Democrat's task in the next six weeks is to push Republican Genevieve Atwood around, politically, in their 2nd Congressional District race without appearing like Higgins, or worse.In short, Owens, the two-term incumbent, faces what has become, across the United States, the new challenge of running a hard campaign against a woman.
"On the surface, there should be no difference between running against a woman or man," says Randy Horiuchi, former chairman of the Utah Democratic Party and campaign strategist. "But there really is. It is a subconscious thing. How tough can you be? How do you react?"
The greatest concern for the male candidate, says Bud Scruggs, chief of staff to GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter and former Republican campaign consultant, is not appearing condescending or patronizing.
It can be a difficult call, especially for older male candidates who come from a generation or social culture where men are overly protective or solicitous of women.
"With a candidate like Wayne, you don't have to worry about him going up and kissing her (Genevieve) on the cheek in their first debate. He's smarter than that," says Scruggs. But physical gestures still can be misinterpreted and quickly turned to the female candidate's advantage if she's smart.
For example, during a debate between Dan Marriott - whom Atwood beat in the GOP primary Sept. 11 - and Atwood this summer, at one point Marriott put his arm around her in a joking manner.
She responded quickly, saying he shouldn't try to patronize her. Marriott seemed stunned. He didn't put his arm around her again.
"You must be more careful when you run against a woman," says Horiuchi. "You have to watch your phraseology, the tenor of your voice."
Of course there's a down side to being a woman candidate. Some may not take you seriously. Others may not want to vote for a woman, any woman.
Says Horiuchi, "A woman candidate has to be careful also - can't become shrill or nagging, can't fit that female stereotype. But on the whole, I think definitely it is an advantage to be a woman running against a man, not the other way around."
Scruggs believes that except for staying away from physical contact - "Youshake their hands just like a man, but that's it" - a male candidate should be as tough on a woman candidate as he would be on a man, as tough as the electorate will tolerate.
"I think you can be rough on them. But you can't make the audience or voters begin to feel sorry for them. You wouldn't want to do that with your male opponent, either. We're all grown-ups here. Politics is a tough business. We should realize that."
Scruggs agrees there is a difference in male/female races. "But it is strategic, not so much stylistic. Our research over the years shows that women (candidates) are considered more compassionate. There is a definite gender gap in Republican politics in this state. Men vote Republican for different reasons than women vote Republican." Thus, male candidates have to make a concerted effort to address those "female" issues because if they don't, even if the female candidate doesn't address them, the female voters will lean automatically to the woman candidate.
"That's been part of Wayne's success (the women's vote) and Genevieve cuts to the heart of it. That should be a real concern for him," Scruggs says.
Part of Owens' attraction in the past was that he was different - a Democrat that some Republicans and independents could support, Scruggs adds. "He had a kind of rebellious vote going for him. But now there's a woman in the race, and that would be even more of a rebellious vote - vote for a woman to represent Utah in Congress. It's unique, different. It's trouble for Wayne."
Another advantage to the woman candidate is how tough she can be, if she does it correctly, says Horiuchi. "Did you hear the radio ads (Atwood) ran against Marriott? She said he was a loose cannon (on the Republican ship), that he was out of control, irresponsible. She even questioned his ethics. She did it in a sweet, nice voice with nice music in the background and she kicked the tar out of him. Those were the meanest ads I've ever heard on Utah radio. How can he respond? Not by saying similar things about her. It won't work."