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Presidential Race Shows Evolving Gender Roles in US Politics

  • Associated Press

Republican presidential candidate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks with the media during a campaign stop at the Peppermill Fireside Lounge, Jan. 18, 2016, in Las Vegas.

Republican presidential candidate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks with the media during a campaign stop at the Peppermill Fireside Lounge, Jan. 18, 2016, in Las Vegas.

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has a husband who quit his career to further hers. Fellow candidate Chris Christie boasts of his wife being the family's top earner. Leading Democratic contender Hillary Clinton is looking to get back into the White House, but this time as president.

In the 2016 campaign, a modern take on gender roles is increasingly on display in both main political parties.

With two women running for president and an increased focus on policies to support two-income families, this is shaping up as a different kind of election, said Anne Marie Slaughter, who four years ago wrote a popular essay in The Atlantic magazine on why she left a job in the State Department to spend more time with her family.

"I think what is changing is, this is the year of the family," said Slaughter, now president and CEO of New America, a Washington-based nonprofit.

Compared with her 2008 presidential campaign, which was heavy on national security, Clinton this time has heavily stressed issues that are meant to appeal to women and families: health care, pay equality, education, child care, family leave. She says "these aren't just women's issues, they are economic issues that drive growth and affect all Americans."

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gives a speech at a rally in Toledo, Iowa Jan. 18, 2016.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gives a speech at a rally in Toledo, Iowa Jan. 18, 2016.

Clinton has a long record as an advocate of women's advancement and speaks often and passionately about her baby granddaughter. But her potential Republican rivals have raised questions about her husband's past infidelities and about how she might have contributed to efforts to discredit some of the women known or alleged to have been involved with him. Donald Trump has flatly accused her of enabling Bill Clinton's philandering.

Among Republicans, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has proposed increasing the child tax credit and creating a tax credit for employers that provide family leave.

Christie says voters are meeting a new generation of candidates with "different types of marriages and different types of relationships than people in the generation before. It really is necessitated by the increasing role and prominence of women in the workforce and by necessity, too."

Christie's wife, Mary Pat Christie, was a former Wall Street executive who out-earned him for most of their marriage. Heidi Cruz, wife of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is on leave from her job at Goldman Sachs. Jane Sanders is a key adviser to husband Bernie Sanders. And Fiorina's husband, Frank, was a corporate executive until he retired early to support her high-powered career.

Ex-President Bill Clinton and Frank Fiorina are campaigning in Iowa as potential "first gentlemen." Many of the other spouses are out on the trail.

The two-career marriages on display in the campaign are in keeping with the rise of women in the workforce. About 58 percent of working-age women were employed in 2012, compared with 38 percent in 1963, federal statistics show. About 70 percent of women with children under 18 are working.

The political reasons for the shift in how candidates talk about their personal lives and family-oriented policies are clear.

"The Democrats have to mobilize the base and the Republicans have to whittle away at the women's vote," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Support from women, who typically lean toward Democrats, was vital for President Barack Obama, who won re-election in 2012 with 55 percent of female voters, while Republican opponent Mitt Romney won 52 percent of men, according to exit polls analyzed by Walsh's center.

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