Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, together?

Karen Beckwith

With Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts, “under active consideration” as Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, the historical first of a major U.S. political party nominating a woman as its presidential candidate may possibly be outshined by another historical first: two women running on the same ticket for the country’s top two elective offices.

Such a combination would not only be historic; it would be historic worldwide. There are no cases where two women have run, as a team, from the same party, for a country’s top two leadership positions.

In only two cases have women held those positions concurrently: briefly in Finland, where the prime minister and president overlapped for two months in 2003; and Nicaragua had a female president and vice president (from separate parties) for two years in the late 1990s.

In the U.S., women from the same party running as a team is unusual. Nonetheless, voters have been willing to vote for multiple female candidates in the same election, including for those of different parties. The most powerful case of this is the 1998 elections in Arizona: women – and only women – were elected to the five top statewide offices.

Does this mean that gender doesn’t make a difference in vote choice? Actually, the sex of the candidate has not driven vote choice. It’s true that fewer women than men win primary elections and hence fewer women than men are candidates for Congress, but female candidates generally do as well — once nominated – as their male counterparts in winning elections. Very few voters vote for — or against — a candidate because she is a woman (or because he is a man).

Are voters likely to support a two-women presidential-vice presidential ticket? Voters are unlikely to vote for or against it simply because both candidates are women — and voters have never voted against a team of candidates simply because the candidates were the same sex. (If voters had, the US would never have had any presidents at all.) Party identification will be the most important factor shaping vote choice; other factors include the quality of the campaign and the quality of the opponent, among others.

Would a vice presidential nominee Warren help presidential nominee Clinton win a majority of electoral college votes? It’s not clear.

Recent political science scholarship is conflicted about whether or not the VP choice has any impact on electoral success. Bringing Sen. Warren onto the ticket would mean two candidates from Democratic-dominant northeastern states — Massachusetts and New York, states Clinton is likely to win in any case. And it’s a little unusual — but not unheard of — for both candidates to come from the same region; see Bill Clinton (Arkansas) and Al Gore (Tennessee) in 1992, and in 2000, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, both (initially) from Texas, until Cheney moved back to Wyoming.

What is clear: if a Clinton-Warren ticket were to win the 2016 election, Sen. Warren would be no more. Holding multiple federal offices violates U.S. constitutional provisions. Her vacancy, filled by Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker’s temporary appointee until a special Senate election could take place, would remove a Democratic senator at a point when Democrats are optimistic about their chances for returning to the majority in the Senate. Gov. Baker, a Republican, would be likely to appoint a Republican interim senator to fill the vacant seat.

Are U.S. citizens likely to see a major political party nominate two women as their candidates for president and vice president in 2016? The Republicans will not do so (at least this time out, and unless a miracle occurs — or a disaster, depending on one’s perspective). Will the Democrats? We’ll see.

Karen Beckwith is the Flora Stone Mather Professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Case Western Reserve University.