Perrspectives - Bringing light to Darkness

Ferraro '84 Flashback: NOW Pressure Secured Mondale VP Slot

March 12, 2008

In one of the more pathetic ironies of campaign '08, Clinton backer and 1984 vice presidential contender Geraldine Ferraro in essence branded Barack Obama's an affirmative action candidacy. Reprising her 1988 statement that "if Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race," Ferraro claimed, "if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." Democrats could be forgiven for expecting more from Ferraro, especially given the National Organization for Women's essential role in securing Mondale's VP slot for a woman.
Heading into the San Francisco Democratic Convention in July 1984, the presumptive nominee Walter Mondale faced almost immediate pressure to select a woman as his running mate. His unusually public process invited speculation - and scrutiny - of a list of potential number two's, including Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers, Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode and Mondale's bitter rival for the nomination, Gary Hart. Trailing Ronald Reagan by 15% in the run-up to the convention, Mondale faced growing demands to do something dramatic to change the dynamic of the race.
Among others, the National Organization for Women was crystal clear as what that dramatic move should be. Arriving at NOW's national conference in Miami just two weeks before the convention, Mondale was "confronted with a sea of green lapel buttons bearing a terse message: 'Woman VP Now.'" During his July 1, 1984 address, Mondale was interrupted not only by applause, but chants of "run with a woman" from an audience waving placards featuring the names of potential women running mates, including three-term New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro. As the New York Times noted, Mondale tried to assuage his audience:

Walter F. Mondale told the National Organization for Women today that he had ''broken the barrier'' of considering a woman to run for the Vice Presidency and that women would ''never again'' be barred from the nation's highest offices.

That may have been sufficient to secure for Mondale the first-ever presidential endorsement from NOW, but it came at a price. With just three dissenting votes, the organization overwhelmingly approved a resolution insisting a woman be nominated for Vice President from the floor of the Democratic Convention if Mondale chose a man as his running mate. Ferraro, who had been endorsed the night before the NOW national conference by Representatives Barbara Kennelly (D-CT), Mary Rose Oakar (D-OH) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), "told the press that she would permit her name to be put into nomination as a 'statement' if no other woman was nominated." Sending a clear message to Mondale and the party establishment, the Democratic Women's Caucus organized 150 whips to work the floor on the Democratic Convention in support of its platform planks - and a woman as vice president.
On July 4, 1984, as Betty Friedan recalled, 23 elected officials and feminist leaders met with Walter Mondale. Friedan, Ann Richards and others came armed with a dossier on Ferraro and arguments for the potentially decisive role of women voters in the election against Reagan that fall. (Fearing a backlash from NOW's resolution, Richards and the other leaders "made it plain they would work actively for Mr. Mondale's candidacy if he chose a man.")
The rest, as they say, is history. On July 12, 1984, Walter Mondale announced his selection of Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. But almost as soon as the Convention euphoria ended over the first-ever nomination of woman vice presidential candidate, Ferraro ran into trouble. Within days, she stirred a firestorm when she claimed President Reagan ''walks around calling himself a good Christian but I don't for one minute believe it because the policies are so terribly unfair." Her husband's dubious financial dealings immediately became fodder for the headlines - and her Republican opponents. Ultimately, the Mondale/Ferraro ticket was drubbed, losing 49 states in Reagan's landslide reelection.
Whether Geraldine Ferraro was a net positive or negative (or just irrelevant) for Democrats in the 1984 race is a topic that will long be debated. But there's no debate as to how - and why - Geraldine Ferraro was selected as Walter Mondale's running mate. As Ferraro admitted to Fox News's John Gibson in February:

"I am the first person who will say in 1984, if my first name were Gerard instead of Geraldine, I would never have been picked as the vice presidential candidate."

UPDATE: After continuing to defend her comments earlier today, Geraldine Ferraro this afternoon resigned her post on the Clinton finance committee.

2 comments on “Ferraro '84 Flashback: NOW Pressure Secured Mondale VP Slot”


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

Follow Us

© 2004 - 
 Perrspectives. All Rights Reserved.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram