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Remembering The Strengths Of Geraldine Ferraro


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

GERALDINE FERRARO: My name is Geraldine Ferraro.


FERRARO: I stand before you to proclaim tonight, America is the land where dreams can come true for all of us.

SIMON: Geraldine Ferraro has died at the age of 75. The first woman nominated for vice president by a major American political party, succumbed to complications from a blood cancer that she'd battled for over a decade.

We're joined now by Dana Milbank, columnist for The Washington Post. Dana, thanks for being with us.

DANA MILBANK: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And, of course, Walter Mondale was the nominee for president. And help us recapture why he found Geraldine Ferraro to be appealing then.

MILBANK: Well, if we look back at 1984, I mean, it's easy to see now that Mondale was fairly well doomed and he really needed to shake up that race. And Geraldine Ferraro brought a great deal of electricity. Certainly in large part because she was a woman, and she also brought in the working class, ethic roots that the Democrats thought would be helpful.

But they also wanted to exploit the gender gap, the growing tendency of women to vote Democratic more than men. It's still the gist with us today. But the naming of Ferraro really is some sort of a jolt of electricity through the body of politics, because it was a big symbol. And, really, it changed American politics to this day.

SIMON: Tip O'Neill loved her, but she had some problems as a candidate, didn't she? There were family financial questions that were raised. And, of course, as you've already suggested, the ticket got drugged.

MILBANK: Right. And arguably it was going to be no matter who was on that ticket with Walter Mondale. But, yes, there were the troubles with her husband's finances. And she proves not to be as experienced and as adept a candidate as one would hope.

So it was more in theory that she would be a lift rather than in practice. But she still became a very important, you know, cause onto herself and very popular with women and with very hardcore Democrats for decades to come.

SIMON: She ran for the Senate there in New York in 1992 and lost obviously. And then - maybe headlines isn't the word - but she certainly caused a stir in the 2008 presidential campaign.

MILBANK: Well, she did and I think most people remember why she suggested that she was a real diehard Clinton supporter and felt that Obama had been as successful as he was because of race, because he's black. It caused a huge controversy. She didn't entirely back away from it.

That's sort of how she had become. She went from being the symbol of a national political ticket to a twice unsuccessful Senate candidate, commentator on CNN, and then later FOX News. She became sort of more of a sort of a in the fray part as an animal at some point. And, you know, people would, I suspect, it took a little bit of the glow off of her original single achievement. But, of course, that is how she will be remembered as the pioneering woman on that ticket.

SIMON: And she did open a door, on the 10 seconds we have remaining.

MILBANK: She sure did. I mean, look at Nancy Pelosi, look at Hillary Clinton, look at Sarah Palin, they still haven't broken through that top level, but that was the beginning of when things changed.

SIMON: Dana Milbank, a columnist for The Washington Post. Thanks very much.

MILBANK: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.